Wearing 23 kilograms of emergency gear and breathing through a face mask, Delta firefighter Jamie McGarva can climb five flights of stairs while carrying a 19-kilogram firehose as fast as most people run 100 metres on a level track.

McGarva’s ability to climb stairs at a blistering pace was one of the reasons he was able to set the world record in a unique athletic competition called the firefighter combat challenge.

Now McGarva is training like an elite athlete to defend his title at the world championship in the U.S. in November.

McGarva set the record at the Canadian championship in Quebec in September, finishing the gruelling contest in 1:13.53, slightly faster than the record 1:13.83 he set in the qualifying round.

It broke the previous world record of 1:15.56 by almost two seconds — an accomplishment that shocked McGarva.
“It’s still hard to believe,” he said.

McGarva is training to defend his record at the XXI Scott Firefighter Combat Challenge at Myrtle Beach, S.C. Nov. 12 to 18, a contest that draws firefighters from around world.

He’ll be heading south with five fellow Delta firefighters on Team Westshore Terminals. They’ll compete in various individual and team categories.

The challenge began in the mid-1970s as a test of firefighters’ physical ability. By 1991, it had evolved into a competitive challenge first held in Washington, D.C. In 1993, the event started to reach a much bigger audience when it was broadcast on ESPN. A year later, firefighters north of the 49th parallel organized the first national championship in Canada at the PNE.

McGarva and his fellow firefighters race in full emergency gear. They wear protective pants and a helmet, carry an oxygen tank and breathe through a face mask.

Altogether, the bulky safety gear weighs about 23 kg (50 pounds).