By Curt Yeomans
If sevens are indeed lucky, then the Clayton County Fire and Emergency Services department hit the jackpot, at this year's World Firefighter Combat Challenge, in Myrtle Beach, S.C.
The local fire department's male "Open," and "Over 40" relay teams, each won world championships at the annual combat challenge last month. With the two new wins, the number of world championships earned by Clayton's firefighters climbs to seven.
They were recognized this week with a proclamation from the Clayton County Board of Commissioners. "They are to be commended," said outgoing fire chief, Alex Cohilas, as he introduced the teams to the commissioners. "They represent the finest. And trust me, every one knows Clayton County across the world, in the firefighting business."
Clayton's firefighters did more than just win two more world championships to display in the firehouses. "This year, we did something that has ... never been done before," Cohilas said. "And, that's set two world records in two divisions against the finest firefighters from across the nation, and 11 foreign countries."
The "Open" relay team set a record of 1 minute and 7.74 seconds for its division, breaking the previous record of 1 minute and 8.28 seconds that was set in 2005, according to the combat challenge web site. Team members include Sgt. Lawrence Adams, Lt. James Barbee, and firefighters Michael Ballisty, Daniel Hardegree and Brad Bailey.
The "Over 40" team set a record of 1 minute and 18.33 seconds for its own division, which broke the previous record of 1 minute and 19.17 seconds, set last year by a North Carolina team. Team members include Assistant Fire Chief Jeff Hood, Capt. Jay Fordham, Capt. Ernest Donaldson, Sgt. David Odum and firefighter Frank Bryson.
Both teams set the new records for the speed in which they completed the relay obstacle course. It included carrying a 175-pound mannequin, running up a five-story tower, running with a water hose, and then shooting water through a hole, and using a firefighter's ax in a chopping motion to move a 110-pound steel block a few feet -- all while wearing full firefighting gear.
"Their saying is, they claim its 'the toughest two minutes of sports,' and we've got people who do the whole individual in a minute, 30 [seconds], which is in the top of the world, and ... our relay teams are the top," Barbee said.
Fordham said the challenge makes them better firefighters. "This is what we do for a living, so it only benefits us in the long run," he said. Barbee added, "When you have to do it for a living, it sort of keeps the motivation behind it."
For firefighters, Fordham said, the challenges are actually a piece of cake. He added it is only tough because it is done in a competitive setting. "We could do it all day, but when you're competing for time against different teams, that's where the toughness comes in, because you have to be faster than them. You talk about tenths of a second? It's just like the Olympics."
And, just like Olympians, members of Clayton County's firefighter combat challenge teams do a lot of training, Fordham said. "You know, the training is hard, but when you compete, it's just an exciting event," he said.
And, the consistent winning does not hurt, either. Over the last five years, according to the proclamation issued by the board of commissioners, the fire department's "Over 40" team has won four world championships, the "Open" team has won two of its own, and the women's team has won one.