If you live in the District of North Vancouver, weigh 175 pounds, live on the sixth floor of a building and happen to get caught in a fire and have less than three minutes to be saved, you should feel glad that Carla King Penman and Matt Ciolfiare around.
Penman and Ciolfi, both members of the DNV Fire and Rescue Services, scored excellent results at the FireFit national championships held in Edmonton this summer that earned them trips to the World Challenge running Oct. 22-27 in Las Vegas.
The event features firefighters working individually, in pairs or as relay teams to navigate a course that includes firefighting tasks such as scaling six flights of stairs while carrying a 42-pound coiled hose, moving a heavy weight with a sledgehammer, and dragging a 175 pound dummy. The best male competitors in the world do it in less than 90 seconds while the fastest women do it in around two minutes. Penman and Ciolfihave both posted competitive times and are hoping to prove next week that they belong on top of the leaderboard. Together they won the mixed tandem relay competition at the national championships while Penman finished second in the women's race and Ciolfiplaced 18th in the men's.
The pair have been competing for four years and have become proficient enough that they make it look easy. They are quick to point out, however, that the race is never, ever easy.
"Honestly, it's death," said Penman with a laugh. "It's known as the toughest two minutes in sports."
"It's one of the hardest things you'll ever do," added Ciolfi. "We train extremely hard to make it feel as easy as possible but it's still always just devastating. Devastating is a word I use a lot."
Adding to the fun is that the race is done in full firefighter gear, including an air mask strapped to the racer's face. Penman, 39, remembers running the course when she first became a firefighter 15 years ago.
"That used to be the physical test to get into the fire academy," she said. "When I did it I remember saying to myself 'I am never doing that again.'" As tough as it was, Penman was good enough to make it into the academy and in 1998 started working for the district. She was the first ever female firefighter on the North Shore - a trivia tidbit that she doesn't dwell on too much.
"I didn't really think anything of it," she said. "Back then there were just no girls anywhere - it was just something I was used to. Every firerelated course I took was all men.. .. I was so used to working with men so when I got here it was no different. I just never thought of it as a big deal, honestly."
The North Vancouver native and former Capilano College basketball player is now deeply ingrained in the department. She married a fellow firefighter, Victor Penman, who has since risen all the way up to chief. Carla is also now an officer, a lieutenant. It was becoming an officer that got her back onto the FireFit course she swore she'd never
set foot on again.
"Around the time that I was getting close to becoming an officer I just felt like I wanted to make sure I kept my physical abilities in top shape," she said. "I was missing the competitive sport thing so I just decided to give that a shot again and now I'm hooked on it."
She's now finished second twice at the national championships, both times trailing only Amber Bowman, the Canadian record holder and a world championship winner from Ontario. The pair will actually join forces to form a women's tandem team at this year's worlds. Penman will also compete in mixed tandem with Ciolfi- they're known as Team Tight T-Shirts - and on a women's relay team.
As for Ciolfi, the 27-year-old Vancouver Island native has been competing in FireFit since he became a district firefighter four years ago. He went to the worlds once before in 2010 and finished in the top 50 in the individual race but he'll be aiming a lot higher this time around.
Wherever he places, however, he's happy to meet and compete with firefighters from around the country and around the world.
"It's a really great show and there's so much camaraderie," he said. "Everyone is helping each other out, it's such a good vibe and good atmosphere to compete in. Everyone is pushing it absolutely as hard as they can."
In that spirit, Penman and Ciolfihave benefited greatly from being able to train with the Delta Fire and Emergency Services. The Delta team is big into the sport and has set up a near-replica course for firefighters to train on. It's a great way to gear up for competitions but it also keeps them all ready for whatever they might encounter when they go out on a real life fire call, said Ciolfi. "Instead of using weights or bike or going for a run, I use the tools of the trade to get my workout," he said. "I'm working hard with an air pack and fire gear on all the time. And so when it comes down to a call I'm really comfortable in that."
Penman also likes to feel as fit as possible to handle whatever the job throws at her. And it is certainly a job that throws all sorts of things, like the time Penman needed to deliver a baby.
"We got there and started the delivery and the paramedics arrived right behind us. Myself and a paramedic delivered it on her bedroom floor. It was pretty amazing," she said.
"There are so many different types of calls that we go to. You never know when the alarms ring what it's going to be. It always keeps you on your toes."
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