On any given afternoon, Tyler firefighter Jeremy Driver can usually be found hauling hose, pounding pavement and slinging sweat at the department’s fire training facility.
“A hobby is something I look forward to doing — this is a challenge,” he said. “I’m very competitive. I’m always trying to get better, stronger, faster. … It motivates me to work out throughout the year because I want to continue improving.”
Driver is one of 15 firefighters representing the city of Tyler in the seventh annual Brookshire’s Firefighter Combat Challenge, set to begin at 4:30 p.m. today and resuming Saturday morning in the south parking lot at Broadway Square Mall, 4601 S. Broadway Ave.
The regional challenge is a type of firefighter fitness competition that simulates five job-related obstacles, such as carrying a fire hose up a high rise and beating a 160-pound beam with an 8-pound mallet until it moves at least 5 feet.
Related activities include food, vendors, a special course for children, a blood drive for Carter BloodCare and a bone marrow drive with Be The Match.
Tyler firefighters also plan to sell pink T-shirts to help raise money for cancer care and research.
The Combat Challenge has its roots in a university-based research study funded by the U.S. Fire Administration.
Event organizer and competitor Brent Hail said the competitions are important for many reasons, including morale and motivation.
“If they are fit, they will do their jobs better,” he said. “Our main focus was getting guys to the point where they could do their jobs better.”
While that might not sound too difficult, participants must wear about 75 pounds of equipment that includes an air pack, helmet, breathing apparatus among other things.
Tyler firefighters have been competing in the Combat Challenge for several years, hauling in state and national awards in the team, relay, individual and chiefs divisions.
Retiree Don Williams, a state and world champion among individuals 50 and older, set a new world record last year for the over-60 tandem, a two-person event.
And driver-engineer Terry Hawkins is a 19-year veteran of the competitions and the recipient of more than a dozen awards.
“Sometimes the practicing gets old, but the competing? No,” Hawkins, 47, said. “It can get repetitive, but the excitement is always there and the adrenaline — I always try to challenge myself to get better.”
Other Tyler firefighters competing this weekend include James Branch, Jeff Hudgens, Patrick Mayo, Jay McClung, Jeff Barnett, Brandon Davis, Stuart Weatherford, Tim Johnson, James Pike, David McClung, Terry Rozz and Ray Hukill.
About 200 competitors are expected to participate in the event, Hail said.
Hopes are high that Tyler’s team will hold its own against other firefighters, many from out of state to attend.
Driver, with a one minute, 45 second time, holds the department record for the fastest individual time.
He said the most difficult aspect of the grueling competition is not necessarily making it through the course, but breathing through a mask while running it.
“It’s really taxing,” Driver teased. “It’s like trying to run a marathon while you’re breathing through a straw.”