Three members of the Swan Hills Fire Department (SHFD) will be taking on two major firefighter challenges on back-to-back weekends in June. 

Clayton MacDonald, Stefan Vezina, and Jamie Molnar will compete in the Alberta and Yukon Regional FireFit Championships in Ft. McMurray on June 3 – 4 before heading down to Calgary to take on the Firefighter Stairclimb Challenge on June 11.

The FireFit Championships competition is based on a series of firefighting tasks commonly carried out in emergency situations. There are both individual and team events with multiple categories. Competitors in the Regional Championships compete to qualify for the National Championships. 

The SHFD competitors will be competing in both individual and relay events. 

Competitors in the individual events perform a series of tasks in full firefighter gear, wearing and breathing from an SCBA (Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus) pack. The tasks include:

1. Stair Climb: Competitors must carry a Hi-Rise Pack (a 4’ bundle of 4” hose weighing 42 lb) to the top floor of the tower (40 ft, six flights, 60 steps) and place it entirely in or on a box on the deck of the tower. Steps can be taken one at a time or in multiples.

2. Hose Hoist: Competitors must haul a 45 lb “Donut Roll” of LDH (Large Diameter Hose) to the top of the tower with a 5/8” kern-mantle rope, then lift and place it in or on the box.

3. Descending The Tower: Competitors must touch every stair and use the handrails.

4. Forcible Entry: Competitors use a 9 lb Trusty Cook shot mallet on a force machine to move the beam a set distance.

5. Run: Competitors run or walk as fast as they can around a series of fire hydrants for a distance of 140’.

6. Hose Advance: Competitors shoulder a 1 3/4” fully charged hose line and drag it 75’ before opening the nozzle and hitting a target with the stream of water. They then shut the nozzle and place it on the ground.

7. Victim Rescue: Competitors must drag a 175 lb mannequin backwards for a distance of 100’.

For the relay events, 3 – 5 person teams complete the seven tasks outlined above in full firefighter gear while wearing (but not breathing from) an SCBA pack. All team members must complete one or more of the seven listed tasks. A flashlight is used as a baton for this relay, with active team members passing the flashlight to the member who is to perform the next task.

This year’s competition will be the third year that Molnar has competed in the FireFit Championships. The first year he competed was in 2018, and he made it to Nationals as part of a team. Molnar competed again in 2019 and once again made it to Nationals but in the individual event. MacDonald competed last year, also making it to Nationals in the individual event.

It is a gruelling competition. Molnar explains that there is a pad at the end of the course where you essentially collapse while volunteers assist you in removing your mask and gear before taking you to a recovery centre to hydrate and regain your strength. He says, “By the time you’re done, you can’t even walk. Your legs are done; they feel like jelly.”

With a week to recover from the FireFit Championships, MacDonald, Vezina, and Molnar will travel to Calgary for the Firefighter Stairclimb Challenge on June 11. This challenge is in support of Wellspring Alberta (WA) to raise money and awareness for firefighters and all citizens living with cancer. The proceeds from this event will help WA provide free programs and services to firefighters and others living with cancer. In addition, WA gifts a portion of the proceeds to support the Firefighters Assistance Charitable Society.

While most people know firefighting is a dangerous calling, many do not realize that cancer is the top cause of line-of-duty firefighter deaths. The chronic exposure to heat, the by-products of fires, and the toxic smoke from burning plastics, chemicals and composite materials put firefighters at a higher risk for certain types of cancer than the general public. There are 16 presumptive cancers that are recognized as occupational hazards associated with firefighting. 

This year’s Stairclimb will be held at Brookfield Place, Calgary’s tallest tower with 57 stories and 1,370 steps. It will also be the highest stairclimb challenge in Canada. 

In previous years, participants have made the climb in full firefighter gear, complete with SCBA. This year, WA has modified this requirement in response to a joint notice from the International Association of Firefighters and the Metropolitan Fire Chiefs Association outlining the newly recognized issue of potential health risks from firefighter PPE (Personal Protective Equipment). Recent research has revealed the presence of Per and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) (chemicals that may be linked to cancer) in firefighter gear. Participants will wear their boots, helmet, SCBA, and their choice of workout clothes but not the turnout jacket and pants.

MacDonald and Molnar have been doing the Firefighter Stairclimb Challenge for four years, but it will be Vezina’s first time. Molnar highlighted the personal significance of this event, saying, “I climb the stairs in memory of Chris Thomsen; he’s the driving force for the reason to improve myself and participate in this challenge.” 

When asked how the Swan Hills community could support the SHFD members in these events, Molnar explained that sponsorship from the business could be helpful. The funds would go toward equipment such as lighter competition gear, a new “Rescue Randy” (a training mannequin), or a force machine for simulating forcible entry.

Interested parties can also sponsor MacDonald, Vezina, and Molnar for the Firefighter Stairclimb Challenge. Those who would like to support our SHFD members can do so through the Firefighter Stairclimb Challenge website ( by clicking the “Donate” button at the top of the screen. Donations can be made to individual participants, teams, or directly to the cause.

By Dean LaBerge, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on May 03, 2023

This item reprinted with permission from   Grizzly Gazette   Swan Hills, Alberta

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