By Bruce Burdett
‘Wear tight, light-weight clothing that sheds water,’ reads an on-line instruction for one obstacle endurance event.
Two Westport firefighter ignored that sound advice when they showed up for the Oct. 19 Tuff Scramblers 5k Adventure Race in Rehoboth.
Firefighter/paramedics Bob Porawski and Tony Ward turned heads when they arrived at the startling line in full Westport turnout gear. They turned more heads when they strapped on their helmets.
And they were the talk of the event when they lumbered past some of their lycra-clad competition through the boulder climbs, rocky hills, tunnels, mud pits, monkey bars, water pits and more designed to make life miserable for contestants.
“We weren’t the fastest but we did pass some people which probably didn’t make them too happy,” Mr. Porawski said. “And most important, we finished.”
Firefighting turnout gear is neither snug nor lightweight. Dry, the outfit and helmet weight about 25 pounds.
“But pretty much right away we were soaking wet” and the outfits felt like they had doubled in weight.
One concession to streamlining — “We wore tennis shoes instead of boots.” Boots would have filled up with water and mud “and we wouldn’t have been able to move or would have sunk.” They also
left their 25-pound air packs behind.
“With over 20 obstacles, this is an action packed 5k course designed to test how ‘tuff’ you really are,” declares Tuff Scrambers.
Mr. Porawski said many of the obstacles were indeed difficult but felt they came in well prepared.
Already this year they had endured two full laps of a 5-K Warrior Dash (Sept. 23) in Connecticut, a 10-mile-plus Tough Mudder (June 1) at Gunstock Mountain, and the 36-floor Fight for Air stair climb in Providence. They left their turnout gear behind for the Warrior Dash and Tough Mudder but wore complete gear for the stair climb with a full team of other Westport firefighters.
“With these things you are always looking to push it up a notch which is why we decided to try this one wearing our turnout gear,” Mr. Porawski said.
Between events, they and others in the department train constantly he said. Although Westport is short on high-rises, it offers plenty of reason for rescuers to stay in shape.
“I used to work in Fall River and many of our carries were down from the third floor … Here we have a lot of woods, houses set way back from the main roads,” Mr. Porawski said. During last year’s big snowstorm, they were repeatedly called on to carry people out of powerless houses. “These could be 100 or 200 yards through deep, heavy snow just to get to a stretcher. And then even further out to the road … For the sake of the person you are helping you don’t want to take too long.”
“All this training really helps,” said Mr. Porawski, who, at age 43 (firefighter Ward is 37) says he has better endurance than at any time in his life. “These events help keep all the training fun.”
Weather at this Tuff Scramblers race was sunny and cool — “perfect conditions but we still heated right up inside all that clothing.”
He said his only real obstacle misstep “was on the monkey bars, right at the end. “By that point it was just too much weight, too slippery and I fell off” into the water. He said he’ll have to work on that.
“It was great, these things raise money for good causes — we’ll be doing it again,” he said, adding that he is already trying to rope in a few others from the Westport fire force.
And how do they intend to ramp up the degree of difficulty next time?
“Maybe we’ll wear those air packs — make it a real challenge.”