Umatilla County firefighter goes to world competition

HELIX, Ore. (AP) Kyle Bryant never expected to be on the world stage. It's all still a bit surreal for the Helix firefighter who never intended to compete in the first place.

Next month, he heads to Las Vegas for the Scott's Firefighter Combat Challenge as a member of a relay team that will climb, hoist, chop, spray and drag their way around an obstacle course. He will join other firefighters who qualified at one of 25-plus locations throughout the United States, Germany, Poland, Slovenia and France.

It all went down like this, Bryant said:

The father of six had volunteered to help out at the firefighter competition held Aug. 30-31 in Pendleton. At the Pendleton Convention Center parking lot, competitors would complete five tasks designed to simulate the rigors of firefighting. They could compete individually, as duos or in 5-man teams.

Bryant, who volunteers with both Helix and East Umatilla County fire departments, helped reset the course after each run. As he worked, he got to know some of the other firefighters. A couple of them approached Bryant about putting together a relay team.

"They came up to me and said, 'Hey, we want to do a five-man relay just for fun. Would you mind being our fifth guy?'" Bryant recalled.

Bryant was game, though he didn't have firefighting gear with him. The 37-year-old borrowed turnouts, helmet and air tank.

His leg came third after the guy who lugged a hose pack five stories up a tower (that was attached to a trailer in the parking lot). Another teammate pulled hose hand-over-hand from the ground to the top of the tower and raced down the stairs. Bryant grabbed a rubberized hammer and banged the end of a 165-pound I-beam until it moved five feet. The next teammate completed a serpentine course, picked up a charged hose, ran and sprayed a target. The last hefted a 175-pound dummy and ran backward to the finish line.

After an anemic 2-minute-30-second effort, they regrouped for another try in the 95-degree heat. To qualify for worlds, they had to complete the course in 2 minutes, 2 seconds or faster, but that possibility wasn't even on their radar.

"That was the farthest thing from our minds," Bryant said. "We just wanted to do better."

Near the end of the second run, the announcer commented that the team had a chance of qualifying. As the last man crossed the finish line, the clock read 1 minute, 58 seconds, punching their ticket to Las Vegas. The five firefighters looked at each other in stunned disbelief.

"It took a couple days to sink in," Bryant said.

When it finally did, he started raising the money for the Nevada trek, figuring needs $1,000 to $1,500 and planning a local $5 spaghetti dinner to raise it.

Bryant, who works security at Wildhorse Casino, said he was unsure about how to prepare for the event since he never trained originally.

"I've been watching a lot of videos on YouTube and observing people who set the records," he said. "It's all been a blur."