Lady's Island-St. Helena firefighter stays cool despite hot competition

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Lady's Island-St. Helena firefighter stays cool despite hot competition

By ANNE CHRISTNOVICH
achristnovich@beaufortgazette.com
Published Sunday, November 18, 2012   |  532 Words  |  

Firefighters tend to be drawn to the adrenaline rush brought on by burning buildings and life-or-death situations.

While that's not surprising, Heidi Charest of the Lady's Island-St. Helena Fire District pushes that intensity to a higher degree.

Charest, 32, competed in the Scott Safety Firefighter Combat Challenge world championship in Myrtle Beach last week, where she placed second in a two-person team event and fourth in an individual event.

The combat challenge was made up of five events designed to test a firefighter's skill and athleticism.

Participants started by lugging a coiled fire hose weighing 42 pounds up six flights of stairs.

At the top of the structure, they used a rope to pull another hose of the same weight up from the ground before running back down the stairs.

And one more thing: They couldn't let the hoses touch the ground or skip a stair going down.

The firefighters then had to drag a hose filled with hundreds of pounds of water 175 feet, spray a target, use a 9-pound sledgehammer to move a 160-pound metal beam and drag a 175-pound mannequin 100 feet.

Charest is no stranger to fitness competitions. Before she became a firefighter four years ago, she was a veteran of CrossFit competitions, among others.

Those events, she said, pale in comparison to the firefighter competition.

"The combat challenge is the hardest thing I've ever done physically," she said Saturday.

The competition is as much about using safety techniques as it is about being the strongest and fastest, Charest said.

But it's also about more than winning. It's about being better prepared for real-life disasters, she said.

"It keeps me prepared and keeps my heart healthy," she said. "You're going from 0 to 100 in miliseconds."

And just as emergencies don't discriminate based on gender, the combat challenge has the same requirements for men and women.

"I think it's more of a confidence booster when a female can not only run the race but complete it," Charest said.

In addition to working out almost every day and coaching at CrossFit in Beaufort, she starts her combat challenge training in March and travels across the country and into Canada to compete from April through November.

Charest got through the individual event Saturday with a time of 2 minutes, 48 seconds -- only two seconds off from her personal best of 2 minutes, 46 seconds. Her goal is to complete the course in 2 minutes, 30 seconds.

She and her teammate, firefighter Brandon Cunningham of Fort Gordon in Georgia, completed the two-person course in 1 minute, 27 seconds.

But don't expect Charest to take a break now that the combat challenge is over.

She starts training today for a CrossFit event.

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