Junior Firefighters Challenge

By Aaron O’Brien and Tom Kiurski

Many firefighters have spent countless hours and buckets of sweat preparing for the Firefighter Combat Challenge—a grueling test of strength and endurance that few of our citizens would even think of performing, much less in a timed event. The dummy drag can easily cause us to slip and fall, while the climbing event can make our knees buckle under the weight. The skid seems to be immovable, while the hose seems unending as we attempt to lift and advance it. This is the Scott Firefighter Combat ChallengeT and is performed by the best of the best in competition with fellow firefighters.

In an educational and entertaining attempt to give the children in our communities a small sampling of some of the events we may be called on to do, Lake Zurich (IL) Fire/Rescue and Livonia (MI) Fire & Rescue host a “Junior Firefighters Challenge.” Both departments’ programs can be adapted for the children in your jurisdiction.


In Livonia, the Junior Firefighter Combat Challenge is held during two Open House events—one in June when school lets out and another in October during Fire Prevention Week. A loudspeaker system is used to get kids interested, and firefighters are on hand to explain the details to participants as they show up. Once a few have been given a detailed explanation, most onlookers learn by watching. The rules of the course can also be reviewed with newly arriving groups.

Lake Zurich’s event. (Photos by Aaron O’Brien.)


The kids start out be-hind a designated starting line made with yellow “Caution” tape staked into the ground. Two lanes can be run concurrently to help move large numbers of kids through the course. A firefighter holding a stopwatch signals the kids to start. They begin by stepping a few steps over the starting line, where they are greeted with two ends of hose that they have to “couple” together. Livonia firefighters have outfitted the sexless “Storz” fittings by taking the gaskets out so kids can easily put the two together. This twisting in different directions may be new for many kids, so a firefighter goes down the track with the kids to help them if they run into problems.

Next, the contestants run a short distance to pick up a nozzle attached to a length of hose (unlined lightweight hose Livonia used many years ago in high-rise packs—including the red plastic nozzle that came with the hose). With the nozzle in hand, the children head down the lane until they reach some obstacles.

The first two obstacles are concrete cement forms that the kids have to crawl through with their hose. A traffic cone stands about 25 feet past the last tube. They drop the hose off at the cone, and the time stops with a click of the stopwatch. The kids look anxiously at the firefighter with the stopwatch, who always lets the kids know they passed the event. The contes-tants are awarded a gold foil Livonia Junior Firefighter Badge to wear for the rest of the day and are congratulated for their effort.

The Livonia Junior Firefighters Challenge is quick and easy to implement, set up, and tear down; is easy to store; and uses a minimum number of firefighters to run the event.


Lake Zurich Fire/Rescue has used this program on several occasions such as at an Open House, a summer camp at the YMCA program, and local schools. It targets children between the ages of five and 13. A parent must accompany each child and must sign a liability waiver before the children can participate in the Junior Firefighter Challenge. The children are sized up and then don children’s firefighting gear. (The local Costco outlet donated the funding for the five sets of fire gear.)

The participants climb the stairs to the top of the fire pole to begin the challenge. Spotters are assigned at the top and the bottom of the fire pole to assist the children down the slide. Once given the signal, the children slide down the pole. An assistant at the bottom helps them around the course. They must quickly weave around six traffic cones. At the end of the cones, two hose packs are set on the ground. The children’s sizes dictate which hose pack they pick up. For smaller children, the pack is made of a 15-foot section of 11/2-inch hose and is lightweight. For larger children, the pack is made of a 25-foot section of 11/2-inch hose. The children pick up the designated hose and carry it to the other end of the course, some 30 feet away.

They drop the hose and step up on the Kaiser forcible entry sled, picking up a sledgehammer and hitting the sled 10 times. The hammer is not the full-size hammer used in the real Firefighter Combat Challenge but a smaller hammer purchased by the Public Works Department.

When finished with the hammer exercise, the children drop the hammer and continue on to the hose drag. They pick up a 13/4-inch length of hose connected to a fire hydrant. The pressure is gated down for ease of control and to prevent injuries. They advance the hose five to 10 feet before they are allowed to open the smooth bore nozzle and attempt to hit a target—a piece of plywood cut out and painted to look like fire. Once they hit the target, they are instructed to shut off the nozzle and move to the dummy drag.

The dummy drag features an old CPR mannequin dressed in old turnout gear. The children take the dummy and drag it to the finish line, approximately 30 feet.

The course is roughly 40 feet long and 30 feet wide. It takes about one to two minutes for the children to complete the course. Five to six firefighters are needed to run the challenge—two on the fire pole to assist the children down the pole, one to two to coach the children through the course, and the rest as runners to reset the course. The course is not timed, and everyone who participates receives a fire department trading card and an “I’ve Been to the Fire Station” tattoo.

AARON O’BRIEN has been in the fire service for nine years and is a lieutenant with Lake Zurich (IL) Fire/Rescue. He is a fire inspector with the Fire Prevention Bureau. He previously was a contract paramedic for four years.

TOM KIURSKI is a paramedic/lieutenant and the director of fire safety education for Livonia (MI) Fire & Rescue. His book Creating a Fire-Safe Community: A Guide for Fire Safety Educators (Fire Engineering, 1999) is a guide for bringing the safety message to all segments of the community efficiently and economically.

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