Firefighter faceoff: Competition heats up in South Stormont

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By Adam Brazeau 
CORNWALL, Ontario - Ingleside's signature summer event proved why firefighters are hailed as heroes.

Morewood firefighter Ben Baynham competes at the 8th annual Ingleside Firefighter Challenge on July 19.

The grit, skill and stamina it takes to save lives and fight fires captivated hundreds of spectators at the Ingleside Firefighter Challenge, in front of the shopping plaza.

A towering obstacle course set the stage for the eighth edition of the annual event on Saturday, July 19.

Dressed in full gear, men and women from throughout the region faced off in a series of obstacles that simulated the quick action needed from a firefighter in the first minutes of a fire.

Despite the stiff competition, Ben Baynham, a Morewood volunteer firefighter with over two years of experience battling blazes in North Dundas, was up for the task.

"I really enjoy the camaraderie at this event, and it's a lot of fun," said Baynham.

It was his second year testing his limits. He competed against Hawksebury firefighter Stephane Bastien.

They began the challenge by rushing up a tall ladder to the top of a scaffold structure where both competitors hauled up a weighted bag by a rope.

Then, they raced back down to showcase the powerful strength needed for a forced entry by pounding a concrete block back a few feet with a sledgehammer.

Next, the participants bolted for the fire hose, which they had to drag across a field before letting loose on a target.

The final physical feat simulated a victim drag, requiring participants to carry an extremely heavy dummy before finally collapsing on a large blue mat.

"It feels like I just ran a sprint breathing through a straw," he said.

Baynham's wife Sam and their nine-month-old daughter Lucy were in the stands cheering him on.

"Competing in this event makes him happy, so we're here to show our support," said Sam.

Baynmam finished in one minute and 37.40 seconds, beating his competition by 6.07 seconds.

Ingleside firefighter Dan Brisebois organized the Women’s Charity Challenge for the Canadian Cancer Society portion of the event.

His fiancé is a cancer survivor and a lot of his colleagues have family or kids that are survivors too.

The participants were regular civilians. A group of 10 brave women, ages 18 to 60, who successfully raised over $1,500.

"We decided to do this to add a little excitement to the crowd, support the Canadian Cancer Society and put a flame out in cancer," said Brisebois.

Before the women went head-to-head, he also competed in the firefighter's challenge.

"The first two minutes of a fire are the most important," said Brisebois. "It’s go, go, go – the adrenaline is rushing."

Ingleside's Brittany Barkley, 25, and Finch's Sherry Mellon, 28, couldn't agree more.

Both were fired up as they tested themselves in the Women's Charity Challenge.

For Barkley, it was a family affair. Her father and brothers are firefighters, and her grandfather was too.

But Barkley filled a spot at the last minute, and only trained once a few days before.

She described wearing the uniform as super heavy and super hot.

"This has given me a whole new appreciation for firefighters," said Barkley. "I feel like I just ran a marathon."

Her brother Mitchel, 30, stood in awe of his little sister who won by a landlside. He has been a firefighter for 11 years, following in his grandfather and father's footsteps.

He founded the event with a few other firefighters after attending multiple challenges throughout the region.

"We saw other places doing it and decided, why not Ingleside?" said Mitchell.

He competes to keep his skills sharp.

"I wanted to make sure I could still do it," said Mitchell.

When Mellon stepped up to support the Canadian Cancer Society and event organizer Brisebois, her cousin, she knew it wouldn't be easy.

"It was extremely challenging, but worth the pain," she said.

Leighton Woods, co-organizer of the day-long event, said this year's Firefighter Challenge was the biggest yet.

The large crowd also enjoyed a slew of children's activities, including a petting zoo, pony rides, inflatables, BBQ food, and a vehicle extrication demonstration, where firefighters used powerful devices like the jaws of life to open up a car.

Live entertainment wrapped up the event with performances by Graham Greer, Grace Willison, and The Shiners.

Woods thanked the local volunteers, businesses, and residents who helped make the challenge a day to remember.

"This is THE event for Ingleside," he said.

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