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April 24, 2014

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First responders answer the call — to compete against their comrades

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Ana Ley

Jackie Palmer pulls a dummy through the final stretch of an obstacle course at the Firefighter Combat Challenge on Saturday, Oct. 26, 2013.

Jackie Palmer describes the Firefighter Combat Challenge as such:

Imagine covering your body with a trash bag, putting on a pair of sweats and then topping the ensemble off with some snowboarding gear — wear this as you race through a grueling obstacle course under the baking Las Vegas sun.

“It’s hot,” said the Las Vegas firefighter and paramedic, catching her breath after beating her lone opponent during the women’s individual competition Saturday morning. “The whole time, it’s like you’re trying to breathe through a straw. You have to suck in air (through an oxygen mask).”

Palmer is one of three first responders from Las Vegas Fire & Rescue competing at the weeklong event, which wraps up Sunday in the parking lot across from the Stratosphere. Her teammates include fellow firefighters Robert “Jake” Jacobsmeyer and David Steele, who are scheduled to compete Sunday in a doubles competition during the second day of the finals. Steele on Saturday scored second place in the category for men 55 and older.

Almost 200 participants from around the world turned out to compete in more than a dozen categories in Firefighter Combat Challenge, whose goal is to encourage firefighter fitness and demonstrate the profession's rigors to the public, according to its website. The challenge is sponsored by Scott Safety, a company based in Monroe, N.C., that manufactures equipment for fire departments.

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A referee high-fives Jackie Palmer after she completed the Firefighter Combat Challenge on on Saturday, Oct. 26, 2013.

Wearing full bunker gear and a breathing apparatus, pairs of competitors race head-to-head as they simulate firefighting through a series of tasks that include climbing a five-story tower, hoisting a heavy bag, dragging fire hoses and rescuing a 175-pound dummy.

“It’s pretty grueling,” said Chad Wurdeman, of Norfolk, Neb., after tending to his teammate inside a tent while she cooled off with a dousing of water.

Even spectators were sweating on the sidelines as temperatures climbed into the 80s Saturday morning, many walking away to get a drink of water in between cheers.

Las Vegan Rhonda Eidson, 45, said she turned out for the event to show support for local firefighters, whom she grew fond of while working at Hooters on the Strip because they responded to so many incidents there.

“It seemed like a great way to spend the day,” Eidson said.

The event continues at 11 a.m. Sunday at 2121 Las Vegas Boulevard South. Admission is free.

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