Area firefighter meets challenge

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Chris Cerci takes working out seriously and for good reason. His physical prowess may save someone’s life.


Cerci makes his living as a firefighter. Since 1999, the Mt. Lebanon resident has worked full time in McKeesport. He’s also a part-time firefighter in Peters Township.


To keep on top of his game, Cerci also participates in firefighter challenges throughout the year. Recently, he competed in the Scott Firefighter Combat Challenge national championships, as well as the world championships. At nationals, he placed 18th overall and finished fourth in his (over-40) age group. At worlds, he placed third in his division.


The Scott Firefighter Combat Challenge began more than 20 years ago as a way to highlight the talents and capabilities of firefighters. By 1993, the challenge had expanded to 12 events across the country. About a dozen years ago, ESPN started televising the event.


From watching the competition, Cerci gained interest in doing the challenge. Since 2001, he has participated nearly every year. This year, he is officially sponsored by Draeger Safety, an international company that specializes in fire and other safety equipment.


“I saw it and was like, ‘That looks easy,’” he said. The Boston native soon found out it wasn’t as easy as it looked after doing the first leg of the event.


Wearing about 75 pounds of gear, Cerci had to climb up a five-story tower and then pull up a 45-pound hose.


“When I got to the top I thought I was going to die,” he said. “I realized after that you have to pace yourself.”


Cerci also said that he had to change the way he trained because the challenge involves several stages. Now, he tries to train in a similar manner. He combines core strength training, circuit training and Olympic lifting along with cardio training. He works out at least five days a week.


At his most recent competition, Cerci took about nine seconds off his best time. He finished in 1 minute 39 seconds. The world record for completing the five-stage course, which simulates what could happen during a fire and rescue situation, is 1 minute 19 seconds.


In addition to the tower climb and rope pull, competitors have to run back down the tower to a Keiser force machine. There they have to strike a 165-pound beam with a 9-pound hammer and move it a distance of five feet. They then race 125 feet through a serpentine course of fire hydrants to a charged hose line. They then drag that 75 feet and have to use the hose to knock down a target with the water. Next, the firefighters must drag a 175-pound mannequin 100 feet to the finish line.


“The course hands out a lot of humble pie,” joked Cerci of the challenge’s difficulty.


“It keeps me in the gym,” he added. “There’s always something on the horizon.”


Because the season runs February to October, Cerci now switches to cross-fit events. All are beneficial to Cerci, who has two children, Abigail and Sophia, with his wife, Laurie.


“It makes me a more efficient worker,” Cerci said of competing in the firefighter challenge. “I don’t get as tired as quickly.”


Cerci advises any firefighter interested in doing the challenge to try it once to see what it’s really like. He added that anyone with questions about the challenge can contact him at crossfit343@gmail.com.


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