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Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Firefighters from 38 departments around the country gathered in the southeast corner of The Oaks Mall parking lot Saturday and Sunday.

But nothing was on fire.

They came for the Fourth Annual Southeast Regional Firefighter Combat Challenge, a qualifying competition that determines eligibility for the world championships in Las Vegas.

Two by two, decked out in full gear, the men and women each carried a 42-pound pack to the top of a five-story tower, hauled up a 42-pound hose roll and raced back down.

They hammered a 160-pound beam out of the way, weaved around obstacles, shot a target with a fire hose and dragged a 175-pound mannequin to safety.

Pat Hartley, 53, a Gainesville Fire Rescue firefighter, said he always goes to the world championships, where he placed second in 1994, fourth in 1995 and third in 2005. He's been competing every year since 1992.

"If you're someone who's going to work out anyway, this gives you something to train over," he said.

Hartley needed to beat the course in four minutes to make it to the world championships. He clocked in Saturday at 3:06.00, but he said he took it easy this year.

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