Air Force firefighters earn gold, silver medals

  • Published
  • By John Van Winkle
  • U.S. Air Force Academy Public Affairs
Firefighters from the U.S. Air Force Academy took home the gold and firefighters from Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo., won silver at the World Firefighter Combat Challenge XX Nov. 19 in Myrtle Beach, S.C.

The firefighter combat challenge requires maximum effort in minimal time as it simulates the exertion needed to fight a fire and rescue a victim on a timed course.

Air Force firefighters from several bases in the continental United States and Europe competed against their peers from Australia, Canada, Europe and the United States.

In the womens relay team, the Academy's Fire Fembots team earned its latest world title in the finals match against the Ontario Flame Tamers. The Fire Fembots is a combined team from the  Academy and Colorado Springs fire departments. Rules changes after the 2008 season allowed firefighters from the same region to form teams to compete. With that change, the Fire Fembots were created when Elaine Perkins, Andrea Carraway and Senior Airman Jessica Condon from the Air Force Academy teamed up with Stacy Billapando and Lisa Smith from the Colorado Springs Fire Department.

But an injury almost sidelined their latest championship run. Smith was hurt playing hockey, and unable to compete.

"We're all anchors to each other, so missing Lisa was a little bit of a mental setback, but we knew we could do it," Carraway said. Smith's part of the course was split between Condon and Perkins, but Smith was on the course with the team during finals with a knee brace, lending emotional support.

"When the girls came together for one last time, we all felt a little pressure," Billapando said. "But all the girls are getting faster in their own individual events, so it all clicked right when it needed to."

The Fembots finished the course in 1:45.01 --- just a second behind their world record time -- while the Ontario team finished at 1:47.41.

"It's amazing," Carraway said. " (It's) so much fun, and we work so hard together. The other teams are stepping it up, shooting for us and getting closer to our times, but it was still fun."

That fun includes a third consecutive world title in as many years for the Fire Fembots.

But the Fembots were only one of several Air Force teams competing, and the surprise of the competition was a previously-unknown team from Whiteman AFB that established itself as a world contender.

In the finals of the mens relay team category, the heavy favorite was the perennial world contenders from Clayton County, Ga., who faced off against the Whiteman AFB team of Timothy Vanden Haak, Chris Frakes, Derrick Allen, Anthony Beaudry and Mark Belton. The Georgia team managed to creates a small lead in the course and won by only a few seconds to take home the gold. The Whiteman team earned silver medals in their first appearance in the world firefighter combat challenge.

The Air Force Academy also fielded several men's teams at this world competition. The Academy 40-plus team finished third in the tandem category and fourth in the team category. A number of Air Force firefighters competed this year on the world stage including teams from F.E Warren AFB, Wyo.; Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany; Whiteman AFB, Mo.; Shaw AFB, S.C.; Seymour Johnson AFB, N.C., as well as teams from Canadian forces and a joint team from U.S. Air Forces in Europe.