By Ed Brock
They are the Magnificent Seven of the Clayton County Fire Department, and next month they'll face the challenge of their careers.
Their names are Deputy Chiefs Jeff Hood and Jeff Scarbrough, Lts. Jeff Keyros and Jerry Russell, Sgt. David Odum and Firefighters Kevin Smallman and George Raburn, and they've been picked to represent the department in the World Championship Scott Firefighter Combat Challenge early next month in Ottawa, Canada.
"They epitomize our dedication to physical fitness that was a major focus of my administration when I took command of the department," Fire Chief Alex Cohilas said.
The Firefighter Combat Challenge is a longstanding program on the ESPN sports network and it consists of a series of tasks.
It starts with a climb up a five-story tower wearing 50 pounds of gear and carrying a 45-pound hose pack. Then they come down and pound a 160-pound chunk of metal with a sledgehammer to move the "sledge" down a 5-foot track in a simulation of forced entry.
From there they run a serpentine course to a waiting hose line that they must drag back through a mock doorway where they must open up 90 pounds of water pressure from the hose to knock down a target. And, finally, they have to drag "Rescue Randy," a 175-pound dummy, for 100 feet.
"Everything is designed to simulate what it would be like if things went wrong in a fire," said Keyros, the man who brought the idea of competing in the challenge to Cohilas. "With the exception of the victim drag any of it can be expected to be done in any working fire."
Keyros and Russell will compete as individuals in the over-40 category and Hood and Scarbrough will compete in the "Chief's Division." The others are part of the department's relay team in which each one performs one of the challenges and then passes a flashlight/baton to the next.
The relay team qualified at the 2003 regional competition in Winston-Salem, N.C. in August.
It was Cohilas' emphasis on physical fitness that inspired him to get a team together. That policy has included putting workout equipment in each of the department's stations around the county and encouraging firefighters to use that equipment as part of their regular schedule.
The department also initiated a healthy diet plan in the food served at each station house where firefighters stay on call for days at a time. Cohilas said he was inspired by one of the many sad stories that came from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
"There were several firefighters who suffered heart attacks when simply climbing the 60 or 70 stories (in the World Trade Center towers in New York that were destroyed in the attack)," Cohilas said.
He wants his firefighters to have long, prosperous careers and to live longer after retirement, Cohilas said. He follows the work out regimen as well and plans to compete in the Combat Challenge next year.
In fact, Cohilas said he plans to build a duplicate of the Combat Challenge course at the department's training facility in Riverdale and to enter teams in the event every year.
"(The seven firefighters in this team) are the pioneers of this department as far as this competition," Cohilas said.
The team leaves on Nov. 4 and the competition will last until Nov. 8. The last two days of the event will be taped and aired later in November on ESPN, Combat Challenge spokeswoman Stephanie Miller said.
Smallman said he's ready to go.
"I just came up here to practice with these guys," Smallman said. "Turns out I had a pretty good time and started training for it."
Because the firefighters are not compensated for off-duty travel or training the department is asking for corporate donations to help offset the cost of travel expenses. Call (770) 473-7833 for more information.