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Champion firefighters West Sebring wins state competition

JOE SEELIG Highlands Today
Published:   |   Updated: March 11, 2013 at 08:14 PM

It took a tiebreaker for members of the West Sebring Volunteer Fire Department's Firematics Team to bring home the State Traveling Trophy by winning this year's Firematics competition, Assistant Chief Billy Kingston said in a recent news release.

West Sebring joined five other teams from around the state in Ft. Myers on July 28, to compete in the 2012 Florida State Firefighter's Association Bass Pro Shop Firematics Competition.

Three teams represented Highlands County, including the Desoto City Volunteer Fire Department, which placed third, and the Highlands Lakes Volunteer Fire Department which fielded an A-team and a B-team.

The other two teams represented were from Plantation, which placed second, and Jacksonville.

The event featured competitively-timed skill events that tested firefighters' endurance and had practical applications, Kingston said.

The number of teams entering the competition dropped due to budget cuts, said Chief Scott Mann.

"We've been in it since 1994 and we've done it every year since," he said. "We've had numerous championships."

Mann was grateful to the team's sponsors as well as the county commission, which allowed them to represent the county.

The team started practicing months ago, giving up evenings and weekends trying to get back into competitive shape, while training new members of the team. Months of planning, fundraising and practice paid off but it didn't come easy, Kingston said.

Trained and ready, it was off to Ft. Myers, for "The Dry Hose," event which involves coupling or uncoupling hoses and rolling them up.

"It was like they were hitting on all cylinders," said Team Captain, Chris Kelley. Better than any practice run they had done, he added.

The tone was set and the team was off to a great start.

There were a few jitters going into the second event; "The 1 into 2" was an event that had haunted the team through practice. In it the hose is charged and the team clamps the hose while it connects a Y section and connects two hoses – then hits three targets.

"Just connect" could be heard before the team took off, and that's exactly what the team did, said Kingston. "They connected flawlessly with a time good enough for first place in that event."

The third event, "The Running Hose" looked great and felt great but in an event where every second counted the team came up short by tenths-of-a-second to the first-place team, Plantation; which West Sebring ran neck and neck with them all day.

"…Every point counts and it was a solid second here that brought us on our way to being number one," he said.

The next event, "The Barrel Push" is one the team has proven to be either first or last; it's all in the way the barrel rolls that day, Kingston said. This year it was the team's turn to be the event leader.

Asst. Chief Joe Romanik was on point; it was a smooth run and again beat the team's practice times.

"The Busted Hose" event is a crowd favorite, mostly because of the water going everywhere. It was the fifth event of the day, Kingston said. The event simulates what could happen when things go wrong and a hose breaks; "then to do what you need to do to get it shut down and changed fast," he said.

"This team did it fast but not nearly fast enough, being beat out by two other teams to claim third place in the event," he said.

"The Bucket Brigade," event brought back the days of old when people put out fires with buckets of water from a water source. Little buckets were dipped into a tank and emptied into one big bucket.

The first-place team, Plantation, ran it in 19 seconds, Kingston said.

When the times from the day were tallied it was a tie between West Sebring and Plantation, so they ran "The Bucket Brigade" again as a tiebreaker.

"Tensions were high, the guys were already tired from the day and one event would decide it; the event that they had just been beaten by Plantation," Kingston said. "Plantation would run it first and they had a great run, beating their original time..."

The West Sebring team got pumped up and then headed to the line.

A few long seconds later it was over," said Kingston. "The team was jumping up and down, high-fives were flying and West Sebring had won the tiebreaker by seven-tenths of a second." (863) 386-5834