By Daniel Silliman
The Clayton County Fire Department swept the relay races at the World Firefighter Combat Challenge, with an unprecedented triple win.
On Freemont Street in Las Vegas over the weekend, Clayton County teams won the over-40 race, the open, and the women's relay race at the firefighters' rodeo.
In the 17-year history of the competition, no department has ever swept like this, according to Paul Davis, the inventor of the challenge.
"They exude a lot of confidence," Davis said, "and they know what they're capable of."
Davis said he was shocked to see the sweep, not only because it had never happened before, but because the three teams didn't start out well. "It was ugly," he said. "The initial runs were pretty atrocious, falling down and everything. But they got all the kinks worked out before it really mattered ... They hung in there and pulled it out in the end."
Clayton County Fire Chief Alex Cohilas said the first few rounds, as the teams worked toward the world's finals, were a struggle. The pressure of the crowds, the competition, and the TV cameras, combined with the unfamiliar course and the slick pavement, were really daunting.
The over-40 team, which had already won two world championships, saw two serious tumbles in the first race. The women's team sustained a couple of injuries, and one athlete fell a few inches short of the finish line.
But against the final field of 64 relay teams, the best of the competitors from Europe to the U.S. military, from Canada to Winston-Salem, N.C., the Clayton County teams triumphed.
"It was win or go home," Cohilas said. "There was no double elimination. That was it, you're gone. We said we were going to run smooth and smart and we knew we could come into our own.
"We knew we could run with the top times, but doing it under pressure, under television lights and with a crowd is a different story ... Clayton County was the talk of the tournament. The intensity and the buzz increased and increased, and it was like, could this be done?"
The women's team -- competing for the first time this year -- turned it around. Running against a dominant Canadian team, they won by six tenths of a second.
"After we won, it was wild. It was just the wildest thing in the world. We were representing Clayton County on a world stage," Cohilas said.
Davis, who has seen a lot of department's teams throw themselves at the combat challenge since he invented it in the mid- '70s, said he thinks the difference between Clayton County and other departments is Chief Cohilas.
"There's not another department that experiences that sort of support at the administrative level," Davis said. "This is a department where the fire chief always shows up. There's a commitment to physical fitness that you don't see everywhere. You ask another department in your area what their program is for physical fitness, and I think you'd get a blank stare.
"One of the women, on the Clayton team said it perfectly. She was working out, and I got a chance to talk to her and she just said it right. She said, 'This is a physically demanding job, why would you not work out? We're simply being professional.'"
The relay teams are slated to be honored by proclamation at the Clayton County Board of Commissioners meeting Tuesday night. The members of the teams are:
Jeff Hood, Jay Fordham, David Odum, Jerry Russell and Ernest Donaldson
Lawrence Adams, Jimmy Barbee, Michael Ballisty, Danny Hardegree, and Antonio Johnson.
Ann Hall, Kassi Thoreson, Rachel Dornbusch, Aurora Mayfield and Martine Rose.