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Vandenberg firefighters take 1st in international competition

30th Civil Engineer Squadron firefighters, and members of the Vandenberg firefighter combat challenge team, Tech. Sgt. Matthew Lutz, Lamont Brown, Staff Sgt. Glenn Silva and Tech. Sgt. Joseph Absher pose for a photo after winning first place in the relay portion of the 408th Scott Firefighter Combat Challenge, Sept. 20, 2015, Ontario, California. The challenge began as a university-based research study and has since evolved into a five-event obstacle course, simulating the physical rigors of structural firefighting. Following the local competition, the team will move on to compete against crews from all over the globe -- in the world challenge, held in Montgomery, Ala., Oct. 19 through 24. (Courtesy photo)

30th Civil Engineer Squadron firefighters, and members of the Vandenberg firefighter combat challenge team, Tech. Sgt. Matthew Lutz, Lamont Brown, Staff Sgt. Glenn Silva and Tech. Sgt. Joseph Absher pose for a photo after winning first place in the relay portion of the 408th Scott Firefighter Combat Challenge, Sept. 20, 2015, Ontario, California. The challenge began as a university-based research study and has since evolved into a five-event obstacle course, simulating the physical rigors of structural firefighting. Following the local competition, the team will move on to compete against crews from all over the globe -- in the world challenge, held in Montgomery, Ala., Oct. 19 through 24. (Courtesy photo)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- A team of six firefighters from the 30th Civil Engineer Squadron recently took first place in the 408th Scott Firefighter Combat Challenge in Ontario, California, Sept. 19 through 20.

The challenge began as a university-based research study and has since evolved into a five-event obstacle course, simulating the physical rigors of structural firefighting. Following the local competition, the team will move on to compete against crews from all over the globe -- in the world challenge, held in Montgomery, Ala., Oct. 19 through 24.

"Teams from all over the world come and compete," said Tech. Sgt. Joseph Absher, 30th CES north battalion chief. "We've been practicing, and at the same time fighting fires all over the state of California. We've fine-tuned our skills from last year, returned to Ontario, California, and broke, not only one of our Vandenberg records, but we qualified for the world challenge which is in Montgomery, Ala. We really put in the hard work."

The five parts to the obstacle include a high-rise pack carry, hose hoist, forcible entry, hose advance and victim rescue - all condensed into what ESPN has dubbed, "the toughest two minutes in sports".

"Everything in the course imitates firefighter movements," said Absher. "We do a lot of the obstacles in real life, so it becomes second nature to us -- but it's a matter of going that extra step to do those things even quicker and more efficiently. For this type of event, you're taking some of the fittest guys and you're asking them to step it up a notch. They call it the toughest two minutes in sports, and it's called that for a reason."

Although the competition can be physically and mentally demanding, participants embrace the challenge and enjoy representing their department and Vandenberg.

"There's always friendly competition because we want to better ourselves, not only for us individually but for the entire department," said Staff Sgt. Glenn Silva, 30th CES engineer firefighter. "It's one way we can stay healthy and competitive. As a team event, the relay is really where we find our glory. I do it to challenge myself and grow within the department. You can do as good as you want for yourself, but if you can do well for your brothers in the department - it's much more meaningful."

Members of the team attribute their success to a combination of dedicated perseverance and invaluable support from peers and fire department leadership.

"We worked hard and focused on our expectations," said Absher. "When the weekends came and it came down to spending time with our families or practicing, we brought our kids to the practice. It was really a matter of dedication. Also, we couldn't do it if we didn't have our leadership's support, or the crews who were willing to come out and reset our course. We've had a lot of support from everyone and we greatly appreciate it."

Maintaining healthy lifestyles is always an Air Force priority, but for Vandenberg firefighters, it's often a way of life.

"A lot of times we have to be in even better shape because of the aspect of wild-land firefighting here -- where you may have to hike miles at a time while carrying your gear," said Silva. "So we already take physical fitness very serious but training for a competition like this is another venue to stay as fit as possible. I'm really excited to represent, not only our department, but all of Vandenberg Air Force Base to the entire world."

Members of the team include: Tech. Sgt. Joseph Absher, Staff Sgt. Glenn Silva, Tech. Sgt. Matthew Lutz, Tech. Sgt. Brian Martenis, John Markley, and Lamont Brown.