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Fort McMurray FireFit Team

FireFit: It's a sport and it's a way for some members of the Fort McMurray Fire Department (FMFD) to show off the results of their emergency-services training. And when members of the Fort McMurray FireFit Team do their stuff in competition, they usually end up in the medals.

That happened again in September 2014 when the squad's five-man relay warmed up for the national championships by taking top spot at the Western Quebec Regional FireFit challenge in Montreal, then went on to win the Canadian title September 14 in Longueuil, Que.

Not only did the Fort McMurray FireFit Men’s Relay team win the National Championship over Kamloops, but all of the team members at the competition attained seven new "personal bests" for their efforts. In Longueuil for nationals were Team Lead Fraser O’Neill and teammates Abra Hale, Tao Liu, Jalene Kara Cartwright, Ashley Kembel, Devin Biegel, Dan Hnatiuk and Brandon Breitkreuz.

The week earlier in Montreal, Cartwright and Kembel also took first and second spots in the individual women's competition, as did the two-man NXG2 teams of Liu plus O'Neill and Biegel plus Breitkreuz. Also taking a top spot in Montreal was the mixed NXG2 pairing of Cartwright and Hnatiuk.

The FireFit relay team

The medal-winning relay team (from left): Devin Biegel, Fraser O’Neill, Brandon Breitkreuz, Tao Liu and Dan Hnatiuk.

At an in-house FireFit competition in June, the Fort McMurray FireFit Team placed first in every event and — with a time of one minute and five seconds — broke a department record in the team relay by two seconds.

The Team

Fort McMurray FireFit Team members who attended national championships were (in alphabetic order): Devin Biegel, Brandon Breitkreuz, Jalene Cartwright, Ashley Kembel, Abra Hale, Dan Hnatiuk, Tao Liu and Fraser O’Neill (Team Lead). You can connect with the team on its Facebook page. And you can get more information on the national championships at the FireFit of Canada website.

Athlete Profiles:

Meet the team members.

At a competition in June, the relay team was just a few seconds shy of a national-record time and, since then, members of the team have been preparing for the championships in Longueuil.

The team has trained by running up and down Abasands Hill in full firefighting gear. It's members have trained together and individually for as many as 20 hours a week. They have sweated, encouraged each other, yelled and pushed themselves to their respective limits ... their bodies aching.

The current FireFit competitive team also includes Mark Howdle, Derrick Appelt, Kyle Beckley, Corey Ehalt and Drew Boeckx, but not all members could compete at nationals.

O’Neill exudes enthusiasm on the subject of the FireFit team, and he is the natural fit as the FireFit team lead.

A few years ago, he and Geoff Pyke (who joined CNRL in 2013) met with Jody Butz, the Acting Deputy Chief of the FMFD, to express their interest in starting a FireFit team. In addition to Pyke and O’Neill, the team members included Michael Broderick and Brent Wagner. Butz’s response was that if the four could establish a working team, the FMFD would do as much as possible to help in their success.

Video: What is FireFit?

Video: FireFit and the FMFD

“Pyke and I co-managed the FireFit team’s growth until he left in 2013,” O’Neill explains. “We got hired by the FMFD together. He’s one of my best friends.”

Today, O’Neill leads the team and views his role as a way of giving back what he has received and valued from others in his own growth and career development.

“Over the years I’ve had really good leaders and mentors, like my football coaches — people that have inspired me and helped me grow as a person,” O’Neill says.

“I try to guide the FireFit team, but I want input from everyone. We all take initiative and we each have a sense of ownership when the team triumphs.”

While bringing out the best in his fellow FireFit team-mates, O’Neill keeps his eyes peeled for new talent.

“A big thing is the new guys and gals coming in,” he says. “That’s my big source of talent. I like building up depth. I’d like to build two teams to take to the National competition down the road.” (Not all of the 12-member FMFD FireFit team can afford either the time commitment or the money required to travel to Quebec for the national championships.)

Success at nationals earns team members bragging rights and might also help with its efforts to lure a championship event to Fort McMurray and to attract additional sponsors. Current backers include (silver sponsors) Servus Credit Union and Phoenix Heli-flight (silver sponsors); Grey Stone Dental, Boomtown Casino, Gregg's Distributors, Dunvegan Oil, EliteRx Strength and Conditioning and Acklands Grainger (bronze sponsors).

O’Neill notes that a gold-level sponsorship is still unclaimed.

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