Firefighters first and second at regional competition

A pair of Thompson firefighters posted top five overall individual times in the Scott FireFit Championship Saskatchewan, Manitoba and territories regional competition in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan June 18.

Darrick Graff, in the competition for the second time and the first as a member of Thompson Fire and Emergency Services, finished the gruelling course second overall with a time of 1:32.12 while Ryan Chigol, a veteran of the competition, placed fourth, crossing the finish line in 1:34.95.

The only competitor to beat Graff was from the Medicine Hat fire department, meaning the Thompson firefighter had the top time in the region, which qualified him to compete in the national FireFit championship, being held in Medicine Hat, Alberta in September. Chigol's time was the second fastest among competitors from the region, meaning he has qualified as well.

"It was a little bit quicker this year than the last time I did it," said Graff, who entered the competition in 2009 while working for the Flin Flon fire department. Seven seconds quicker to be exact.

Chigol, meanwhile, said his run wasn't his best.

"This year definitely wasn't my best time but I was still happy with my time," he said. "It's still a pretty decent run."

But Graff took the spot Chigol had been used to occupying.

"At the last two regions I went to I won the region," said Chigol.

This doesn't give Graff bragging rights around the fire hall, though.

"He's my lieutenant so you know I've just got to shut up about it," said Graff.

Thompon's fire department is used to success in the regional competition.

In 2007, five members from the department - including Chigol, who first entered the competition with former Thompson firefighter Russ Friesen in 2006, placed third in the relay event, with both Chigol and Friesen advancing to nationals. Two years later, the Thompson squad won the individual, relay and team competitions, with Chigol topping the individual event, just ahead of Kane Doran, now deputy fire chief. This year, however, only Graff and Chigol could attend.

"Unfortunately this year we could only send two guys," said Chigol. "We couldn't send a team to do the relay or the team event. We'd done really well in the past in those events."

The winning tradition comes despite the department not having a replica course to practise on.

"Like any other year, we train hard and try to mimic the course as best we can with the tools that we have at the hall here," said Chigol. "Whereas basically other departments across Canada have the tower to train with, we're unfortunate we don't have a tower so we kind of do what we can."

The tower is a 60-foot tall structure with six flights of 10 stairs that serves as the first stage of the FireFit course. Participants run to the top, carrying a 42-pound hose bundle, while in the turnout gear that firefighters wear when responding to alarms - helmet, boots, firefighting jacket and pants as well as the self-contained breathing apparatus. At the top, they grab a rope hanging over the tower's edge and haul up another hose bundle before running back down.

"It's not fun," says Chigol. "Because it's a lot of hard work, you know, it's a lot of dedication, it's a lot of discipline. It's not like it's a full-time profession like, you know, MMA or whatever, where you do it full time. Here you've got to basically train when you find time after work. Some fire departments, they strictly give guys time off to train, whereas we're doing 10 ambulance calls a day and fire calls as well on top of that."

Having a partner or partners is key to keeping your motivation.

"If you're by yourself training you've got to set up all the course, take it down by yourself," said Chigol. "It's nice to have someone to train with."

"The last three weeks of training, I couldn't wait to get it over with," admits Graff, especially since the final stage of the race involves dragging a 175-pound dummy a distance of 100 feet. "That's the end of it. It's not fun."

Chigol says he won't be attending the national FireFit championships in September.

"Unfortunately, I can't make it this year," he said.

Graff, however, may make the trip.

"Darrick, he's kind of up in the air, he's still considering going," Chigol says. "We're discussing it just with funds and stuff like that and we're kind of going to take another week to think about that."

Regardless, Chigol says that Thompson Fire and Emergency Services have the right to be proud of their members' efforts.

"I think we do pretty good compared to those other bigger departments," he said.

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