Courtesy Story

With a furrowed brow and tired arms, he carries the fire hose over his shoulder across the line. Once across, he picks up a mallet and begins to pound away at a forced entry simulator. Tired but relentless, the next task brings the individual to a mannequin rescue scene, wherein his strength is tested as he carries the body to safety. Finally, he must extinguish a simulated fire with the precise aim of a powerful pressure hose. Successfully completing the tasks, he greets his family as they praise and cheer for him. This three-year old has just completed the Kid's Firefighter Challenge.

The 2009 American Heroes Celebration at Camp Mabry welcomed dozens of uniformed departments and organizations to show off their service to the community. The Austin Fire Department warmly embraced the youth of the event by putting on a small-scale version of their annual service competition, the Scott Firefighter Combat Challenge.

"It's actually a competition that we train for quite a bit," said Scott M. Bartell, lieutenant for Engine 1 of the Austin Fire Department. "It's a fun thing for the kids to see what we do."

Showcasing the American Fire Service while promoting physical fitness for children, the Kid's Firefighter Challenge takes participants through four of the rigorous trials of the real competition.

"[The Firefighter Challenge] was developed as an assessment tool for fire departments," said Bartell. "It simulates our firefighting activities."

The children's version includes a fire hose carry, the Keiser block, which simulates forcible entry, victim rescue with the aid of a mannequin, and a fire hose drag and spray. The adult counterpart additionally includes wear of the full SCOTT Air-Pak breaking apparatus and climbing a five-story tower.

"I like the hammer because I liked to move the big block," said Elizabeth W. Schiesser, 10. "I would like to do it again because I had a fun time."

Jim Key, retired Austin Fire Department captain and coach for the AFD Firefighter Challenge Team, has been working with the competition since its conception more than 15 years ago.

"We brought some of the toys we play with on a daily basis that represent firefighting," said Key. "We want kids to have a good day."

"I like spraying the hose because it's like pulling a trigger on a gun," said Jack H. Waters, 5.

In addition to giving youths the opportunity to perform real firefighter activities, the Kid's Firefighter Challenge also educates children on fire safety, home evacuation during a fire and other safety topics. As an outreach program, it stimulates children to take an active role in their family's fire plan and engages them with related competitions such as fire safety posters and essay contests.

This year's national-level competition for the Firefighter Combat Challenge takes place in Dallas in October with the world competition following in November in Las Vegas.