A FIREFIGHTER runs to scale a 4.5-metre ladder, hose in hand and racing against the clock.
A spotter watches to make sure the competitor keeps three points of contact between themselves and the ladder – a safety rule that results in a stiff time penalty for those who slip.
Raising his hand, the competitor signals to his teammates to “charge”, or turn on the water pressure.
The powerful stream of water trips the electronic timing board and the event is over in less than 12 seconds.
The ladder-and-hose event is one of 15 events on show at the 2012 State Firefighter Championships designed to simulate real-life scenarios that challenge Australian firefighters.
Competing in temperatures of 30 degrees Celsius at Tamworth’s Cross Park this week, 200 firefighters from across the country are out to hone skills and win bragging rights.
Described as the Olympics for firefighters, the three-day biennial event pits brigade against brigade and everyone is out to win, especially co-host brigade Tamworth city.
“We all want to do the best we can. Firies like to be the best and we’re competing against some of the best teams in the state,” Tamworth city brigade deputy captain Alastair Rayner said.
“The championships are a good test of skill and benchmark for all firefighters.”
Kelso is the reigning state champion, winning the coveted Alfred Webb Cup at the 2010 championships in Tamworth two years ago.
“It’s highly competitive. Events are timed down to a thousandth of a second,” NSW Fire Brigades Superintendent Ian Krimmer said.
Although some events are about speed or stealth, Fire and Rescue NSW Commissioner Greg Mullins says it was the teamwork factor that would ultimately win a brigade the awards.
“At a real fire, chemical spill or car accident, it’s the teamwork behind a brigade that gives them the upper edge,” Mr Mullins said.
“That’s what the championships are all about.
“You can really spot a team that trains together – they are tighter and just that little bit more together than the others.”
Yesterday member for Tamworth Kevin Anderson opened the championships and said the event was a great chance for the community to see the diverse role of the modern firefighter in action.
“Today, Fire and Rescue NSW is more than just a fire service,” Mr Anderson said.
“They conduct rescues, protect the community from critical incidents and support the NSW Rural Fire Service and NSW Ambulance Service in small communities.”
The majority of the firefighters competing this week are retained, or on-call firefighters who are available 24 hours a day for their brigades.
Tony Terry from the Trangi Fire Brigade has been a retained firefighter for 27 years and says he looks forward to the championships as a way of catching up with old friends.
“It’s about mateship and catching up with everyone. Seeing the boss around is nice, too,” Mr Terry said.
The “boss”, or Mr Mullins, agrees.
He said the camaraderie around the grounds was incredible.
Visiting brigades that brought just a few members have joined with other brigades as “composite” teams and rely on teammates they have only just met to do the best by them on the competition grounds.
The event is bringing a much-needed boost to Tamworth’s economy, with an estimated $100,000 coming in through the accommodation, restaurant and entertainment trade.
“It’s great economic investment for Tamworth. We say it’s a three-day event, but a five-day show for the town,” Superintendent Krimmer said.
Getting a good look at the hot competition today will be 500 Tamworth and district school students, who are heading to the event grounds today to learn about fire safety and see demonstrations.
Today the competition continues with urban pumper and breeching, and hose-and-hydrant events, and will finish with a torchlight procession from 7.45pm along Peel St and Kable Ave, finishing with a bang with a fireworks display at No. 1 Oval.
The 2012 State Firefighter Championships are on today at Cross Park from 9.30am to 4pm.