By: Leah Sobon
Nine firefighters from Memphis, Tenn. are looking to put their town back on the map. In the wake of the pandemic, Memphis firefighter Michael Coleman founded The Bluff City Combat Team, a group of special operations firefighters who share the same focus: training to win Firefighter Challenges across North America.
Founded in 1991, the Firefighter Challenges pit some of the fittest in five competitions including a High Rise Hose Pack Carry, a Victim Rescue and a Forcible Entry. 17 Challenges are planned across the country for 2022.,
“I want people to come out. And it will be an absolutely terrible workout, but you enjoy it because you’ve accomplished something. We’re acknowledging anyone who has the drive and ambition to be better and healthier,” says Coleman, who knows how hard it can be to show up for something so intimidating and difficult. “Putting yourself out there to compete or show how athletic you are when you are surrounded by other incredibly fit people…that’s pretty intimidating in itself. But for me, being active and allowing people to see that I’m having a hard time, sweating or out of breath, has given me the confidence to lead others through anything. Once I saw how this challenge affected others, I knew this was the right thing to do and I wanted to include as many people as possible.”
Training around the clock
The group of nine trains as much as 20 times a month outside of work hours, redefining what it means to be a fire community. If running up and down six flights of stairs carrying more than 70 pounds of gear, then hauling a 42 pound hose up and down at full speed – and that’s just part of the training- picture doing it in the steamy Memphis heat after a shift. This dedicated group of Memphis firefighters are eager to impress not only their fire department, but the City of Memphis as well. And they’re gunning to beat an impressive course record of one minute and 13 seconds.
“If we have someone who’s having a hard time dragging the dummy, everyone stops what they’re doing and cheers that person on. This extends beyond the training. Working out together, going on trips and experiencing everything together is creating a tight bond. It will only get better,” says Coleman, who hopes that their journey – which has attracted the attention of upper management -, will ultimately be paid for and covered by sponsors, making the focus on success even greater. “The team is going above and beyond, which is why I chose them originally. These guys and girls are people I can put my name behind.”
A team both on and off the job
Team Captain and Founder Coleman has been in firefighting for eight years and other members have as little as one month up to a combined 15 years in both fire and EMS. This athletic and determined group of nine make no excuses when it comes to showing up for practice, despite how easy it would be to hang up the helmet after work and transition into family life. “There are people on the team going through rough times or they might be having a hard day – until they come to practice. Afterwards, they feel relieved,” Coleman says.
Memphis firefighter Coleman has a message for those who might think they have reasons not to show up. “Don’t be afraid to ask for help. It’s ok to fail. You have people supporting you everywhere and wanting you to succeed. All you have to do is ask and try. I’m always going to choose the person who has the dedication and the need to be better and who shows up to the practices rather than the person who clocks an amazing time – but shows up to just one practice.”
“Right now, we have a lot of athletes within the fire service. A lot of them are high school and college athletes who couldn’t take it pro. We are allowing these athletes to further their careers. All of our training reflects the things we do in the wee hours of the morning, late at night, on a house fire or an ems call. It’s a way for people to see what we do in a very simplified way,” says Coleman.
Bluff City Combat Team
Despite the heat, physical challenges, and the schedule of intense competitions, members of the Memphis Fire Department are inspired by the work of the Bluff City Combat Team. They’re even beginning to train at practices with the team. Fellow Memphis firefighters witness the camaraderie that has developed and the physical gains the team has made since starting training just in March of this year. With one competition under their belt, the team hopes to expand to 40 members and have multiple teams competing in relay, tandem, or individual Firefighter Challenges.
This highly competitive sport has obvious physical benefits, but there are many unspoken perks for the group. Lindsay Lund, the team’s only female member, says, “The Combat Challenge challenges you mentally, physically and emotionally. It pushes you outside your comfort zone and shows you what you’re capable of doing with the support from your teammates. It’s a family.”
Fellow teammate Eric Shumaker adds, “I have always been competitive and this lets me compete while building skills for the job I love. I like to be part of a team. Every day this group is together, we get closer and we all push each other that much harder. It’s fun and it makes you want to be better every day.”
At press time, the team is focused on training for their next competition in Grand Rapids, Mich. “It’s the toughest two minutes you’ll ever have as a fireman.” Coleman continues, “I could go down in a fire and someone I’ve worked out with and trained beside could have to pull me out. It’s more than just showing up for a shift.”
You can follow the Bluff City Combat Team made up of Memphis firefighters on Facebook: www.facebook.com/Bluff-City-Combat-102166092447486
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