By Chris Teale (Photo/Chris Teale)
First responders from Alexandria’s police and fire departments joined their peers from across the country and around the world for the 16th World Police and Fire Games, hosted at venues across Fairfax County, securing medals after a gruelling competition that lasted more than a week.
One Port City-based competitor was firefighter Jarrett Wood, who took home a bronze medal in the Ultimate Firefighter competition in the men’s age 18 and older category, persevering through a series of four intense challenges at Springfield Town Center on July 2.
The Ultimate Firefighter competition was a test of a firefighter’s physical strength, speed and abilities as they performed tasks they do every day on the job, but in a race against the clock and their fellow competitors. Wood, 24, is based at Fire Station 208 on the West End and said he didn’t want to miss an opportunity to test himself physically against fellow firefighters.
“Honestly, [I entered] just to see where my physical aptitude was compared to other firefighters,” he said after his events. “I always thought I was in shape and I always believed I was in shape, so I had to have something to compare it to. It’s really good to do an event like this because these are things that we do every day on the job.”
He raced against firefighter Jiri Stabl of the Czech Republic in all four of his events, and Wood started strong, crushing the opening event with a provisional time of 59 seconds. In that challenge, firefighters had to run with two hoses on their shoulders and unfurl them, then roll up two additional hoses placed further up the course and carry them over the finish line.
Wood then had to tackle the second challenge, which involved raising a ladder, carrying a ball of hosing up several flights of stairs to the top of a tower, lifting more hosing to the top of the tower using a rope, attaching a hose connector to the back of a fire engine, then taking an axe and plunging it into a block of wood before crossing the finish line. Wood impressed again with a provisional time of one minute and 11 seconds.
The third event was an obstacle course, highlighted by the requirement to shift a metal slab across a stretch of ground using only a sledgehammer, slaloming around several fire hydrants and then dragging a 165-pound dummy 100 feet to the finish line. With a time of just 46 seconds on that event, Wood was in good shape near the top of the leaderboard, making incredible time on the dummy drag to close out the event.
The final event was a test of speed and endurance as competitors raced up and down the tower from the second challenge carrying equipment that included more hosing and a chainsaw. Wood finished with a time of one minute and nine seconds and said the physical undertaking was almost unlike anything he had ever done before.
“This course is so humbling,” he said. “It’s one thing to watch it online, to kind of prepare yourself for it, but it’s another thing to actually do it. Exactly what I found out was, doing it was tough, definitely tough.
“Luckily, we do all this stuff every day. My mindset is just to do it a lot harder to get ready for the games. That was kind of how I prepared myself.”
Wood’s effort was enough for a bronze, and capped a strong week for Alexandria’s representatives. His colleagues in the department, Ashley Whisonant and Lou Simpson, took golds in bodybuilding and trap shooting, respectively, while Rudy Thomas took silver in team bowling alongside Derek Payne of the D.C. Fire Department. Meanwhile, Officer John Bratelli of the Alexandria Police Department took home a gold medal in boxing’s 156-pound weight category, Novice II division.
For Wood, his participation was merely an extension of his childhood dream of being a firefighter, and said his achievements came through hard work and determination.
“It was always one of those things growing up,” he said. “The teacher would always ask, ‘What do you want to do when you grow up?’ I would always say I wanted to drive a big red fire truck — seriously — and I just pursued that dream. I applied to thousands of places, anywhere, out of state, in state, cross-country.”
The experience at the World Police and Fire Games was definitely something the Alexandria native, who has been with the fire department for four years, will remember, especially as he competed so hard against some of the best in the world.
“I’ve had a lot of fun,” Wood said. “I definitely didn’t think I was in this good shape to keep up with the best, but I’m definitely giving them a run for their money.”