OAK FOREST |Two local firefighters earned the right to be listed among the nation's best after winning awards at the National Firefighter Combat Challenge Saturday in Oak Forest.
Chicago Heights firefighter Zachary McGathey and Bill Christensen of the Lansing Fire Department won awards at the event, held in the parking lot of a Food 4 Less store.
McGathey earned the Greenhorn Award for best individual time by a first-time participant with 2:23.59, while Christensen turned in the best time in the over-50 class, completing the competition course in 3:26.84.
"I'm very happy. I was pretty surprised (to win an award)," McGathey said.
The 30-year-old said while he keeps in shape for work and other activities, he only trained specifically for the Challenge for five days.
"I don't really know how I did it," he said. "I kind of got lucky I guess."
The individual competition course consisted of a five-story stair climb with high-rise pack, a 42-pound hose hoist at the top, knocking a 160-pound beam with a nine-pound sledgehammer, pulling a hose 75 feet and squirting a small target and pulling a 175-pound mannequin 100 feet across the finish line.
Vance Woods, of the Markham department, also gave the competition a shot. He posted a 4:39.34.
"I've seen it on TV and it was here last year, but I was gone for my national guard duty," Woods said. "This time, I was going to do it."
The competition took place in the shadow of an I-beam from the World Trade Center, an artifact acquired by Sen. Dick Durbin and Oak Forest Mayor Jim Richmond. The city plans to make it the centerpiece of a 9/11 memorial in the next year.
A moment of silence was held to honor the 384 firefighters who died in the Sept. 11 attacks, and members of the military were recognized. Woods, who was deployed to Egypt in May 2010, said he appreciated the show of patriotic support.
"Stuff like that always puts a smile on my face," he said. "It was really unexpected out here. I enjoyed it."
Both McGathey and Woods said they'd be back next year.
"I wanted to see how good I could do," McGathey said. "I'm a firefighter and this is job-specific and I wanted to see how I compared to other people."