Top firefighters show what it takes to save lives in Abu Dhabi contest

Two hundred and fifty firefighters from 18 countries have gathered in the capital to participate in the four-day annual UAE World Firefighter Challenge.

ABU DHABI // It looked like a big contest but when the UAE World Firefighter Challenge 2016 kicked off this week, some of society’s bravest were out to show they have the strength for one of the toughest jobs in the world.

Two hundred and fifty firefighters from 18 countries have gathered in the capital to participate in the four-day annual contest.

“Firefighters always have to be fit to do the job,” said Mohammad Al Ahmadi, a former firefighter and chief executive of the 911 Firefighting Group, which teamed up with the Ministry of Interior to bring the event to the UAE.

“They are the unsung heroes, and with this competition we show the public what real life is like for firefighters.”

The event sees participants - both men and women - compete in individual, tandem and team categories, while undertaking a gruelling course with six main tasks set up at Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre.

First, competitors climb six stories while carrying a 20kg hose and, from the top, they must hoist another 20kg hose all the way from the ground.

After running back down the stairs, they have to hammer away at a hydraulic beam, run through a series of hydrants spread across 43 metres, pull a fully pressurised hose 23 metres and aim and shoot at a target - all before performing a mock rescue by dragging an 80kg dummy for 30 metres across the finish line.

The entire course - described as organisers as “the toughest two minutes in sports” - is completed in a firefighting uniform, while wearing roughly 20kg in gear and breathing bottled oxygen.

The competition also includes a category that saw 100 members of the public come out earlier this month to see if they have what it takes and match the physical prowess of the firefighters.

A squad visiting from Canada appeared to be the team to beat from the outset and, by the end of competition on Tuesday, the country’s firefighters occupied five of the six top spots in the two main categories for men.

“For me, it gives me a purpose to stay healthy and stay fit,” said Canadian Jamie McGarva, who clocked the best time in the Over 40 Men’s age category.

“I transfer that to the course so I can be a strong firefighter and serve my community.”

Heading the local contingent was firefighter Hassan Al Baloushi, 31, who led 14 Emirati firefighters into competition.

“If you want to be part of the team, you have to be one of the best firefighters in the UAE,” he said.

Mr Al Baloushi, who demonstrated his credentials when he saved Filipino photographer Dennis Mallari during the infamous New Year’s Eve blaze at The Address Downtown Dubai hotel, said the team’s goal is to have everyone perform to the best of their abilities.

“I’m not going to say we’re going to beat the Canadians but the most important point is for each and every one of us to beat their own record,” he said.

esamoglou@thenational.ae