Pushing the limit: Lincoln Township firefighter trains for combat challenge

Lincoln Township Firefighter Brandon Chiarello will compete in the Scott Firefighter Combat Challenge on Aug. 21 in Louisville. Many of competitors are full-time firefighters while he is a volunteer. (Tony Wittkowski | HP Staff)

Lincoln Township Firefighter Brandon Chiarello will compete in the Scott Firefighter Combat Challenge on Aug. 21 in Louisville. Many of competitors are full-time firefighters while he is a volunteer. (Tony Wittkowski | HP Staff)

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

STEVENSVILLE — The life of a firefighter demands endurance and is fraught with danger.

No one understands this more than Brandon Chiarello, who by day, works as a parts consultant at LeValley Chevrolet in Benton Township. After regular work hours, the Stevensville resident is a member of the Lincoln Township Fire Department and is intent on completing a goal he has set for himself.

For the last two years, Chiarello has been participating in the Scott Firefighter Combat Challenge, which pits him against the clock and firefighters from across the country.

Chiarello, who has been an LTFD firefighter for five years, set out to complete the course in record time. His fastest time so far is two minutes, six seconds. The state record is one minute and 50 seconds.

“The competition hits all aspects of firefighting,” Chiarello said.

He said the No. 1 killer of firefighters is heart attacks – something he wants to eradicate in his unit and his own life. “Staying safe is a big thing for me. No one has ever done it from Lincoln (Township), let alone Berrien County.”

The challenge consists of five grueling events.

Firefighters start by carrying a hose called a “high-rise pack” that weighs 42 pounds up a five-story tower. When they reach the top, firefighters then hoist a rolled-up hose with a rope from the ground. After they finish, they move to the forcible entry prop, where they use a 9-pound mallet to drive a 160-pound sled down a track.

In the third event, competitors negotiate a 140-foot slalom course, moving quickly between fire hydrants. Then comes the hose target portion, where a fire hose filed with water is dragged 75 feet before the water is sprayed at a target.

The last event is the victim rescue. A 175-pound dummy is lifted and carried backwards more than 100 feet down a track. The last event is what Chiarello deems the hardest because “your legs turn to jelly at that point.”

All of these events are completed with the firefighters in full gear, while wearing an air pack and breathing bottled air. Chiarello competed in Indianapolis and Lexington, Ky., but will next go to Louisville, Ky., on Aug. 21.

He completed his first course in 2012 and said he came in unprepared.

“I always considered myself to be in shape, but this has opened my eyes on how much I need to train and control my breathing,” Chiarello said. “Now I have props at the fire station that I work out with in full gear, so I get used to running with an extra 70 pounds of equipment.”

As the 28-year-old has repeatedly shaved seconds off his course time, he has continued to up the ante on training. The fireman lifts weights Monday through Friday, while Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday are reserved for endurance.

“The big thing is to have a clean run because there are so many stages that you can get marked for a penalty,” he said. “Realistically, I want to get under two minutes in August, but my goal is to break it by next year.”

A little help

Lincoln Township along with its fire department try to help Chiarello as much as possible, often supplying him with a vehicle and paying for his hotel rooms.

Chiarello said without the additional help, he wouldn’t be able to compete.

Lincoln Township Fire Lt. Griffin Ott said it’s worth it as Chiarello has proven to be the fire department’s main motivator for staying fit.

“Brandon is a very important part of our fire department,” Ott said. “This is his second year competing, but before that he has always been a jock who loves the physical aspect of the firefighting job.”

Ott describes Chiarello’s training as intense. He said it is only a matter of time before Chiarello brings home the state record.

“He’s a warrior,” he said. “He is competing for the entire fire department and the entire community. I know he can do anything he puts his mind to. It’s great to have him with us.”

As his training continues and the hours of preparation stack up, Chiarello said he has one other goal in mind.

“Since I was a little kid, I loved watching the big red trucks pull out of the station and race toward fires,” he said. “I’ll continue to do the competition. My hope is to some day serve in a larger capacity as a full-time firefighter.”

Contact Tony Wittkowski at twittkowski@thehp.com or (269) 932-0358. Follow him on Twitter @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on July 25, 2015)

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