The World Firefighter Combat Challenge is known as the toughest two minutes in sports. In Las Vegas, Nevada in November of 1999, firefighters from all over the world competed."Who does it the fastest wins, and I was the girl who did it the best that day. We pulled it off," said Colorado Springs firefighter Juliet Draper, who will celebrate three years with the Colorado Springs Fire Department in February.

Springs Magazine/January 2000

 

World Firefighter Combat Challenge

Juliet Draper, just 32 years old, says the friendly competition is a series of five physical tasks firefighters are called to do at the scene of a fire but which, over the years, has become more of an athletic event, a very physically demanding athletic event, with women competing against women and men competing against men.

"Everyone-the women, young men, men over 40, men over 50-everyone does the same thing, carries the same weight, hauls the same size stuff. You don't do any less in the competition because you're older or female," Draper said.

For the competition, Draper had to dress in her protective gear: heavy boots, insulated pants and jacket, helmet, and air tank. This stuff alone weighs nearly fifty pounds.

The elements certainly played a part. In Las Vegas, the day reached a warm 78 degrees at the start of the competition, and at the Rocky Mountain Regional Firefighter Combat Challenge in Westminster in August of 1999 where Draper won first place and the right to compete in the nationals, temperatures pushed 90 degrees.

Competing against the Canadian national winner, Draper raced up a five-story tower with a 45-pound hose slung over her shoulders. From there, she dropped the hose and, with a rope, hauled up another 45-pound bundle of hose. Then she zipped back down to the first floor, picked up a nine-pound sledge hammer and began hitting the end of a 165-pound metal I-beam, trying to move it back five feet, an action which simulates chopping a hole in the roof. Next she zigzagged a distance of 140 feet between orange safety cones, grabbed a charged hose -one full of water, dragged it forward 75 feet, opened the nozzle and hit a specified target with the water. Then she lifted a 175-pound dummy from the ground and dragged it backward 100 feet.

Everything is done in succession, as swiftly as possible, without stopping. Draper did it all in two minutes and 34 seconds, six seconds shy of the women's record but beating her Canadian opponent by 17 seconds. Not too shabby considering Draper had sprained her right ankle just ten days before the competition and was on crutches for several days. "I received so much support from the department. The guys taped up my ankle and I competed. I had to. A firefighter doesn't not fight a fire because he or she has an upset stomach."

Draper will be honored for her achievements by Mayor Mary LouMakepeace on January 11. Draper, stationed at Fire Station Number 1 (the Big House), and fellow firefighter Stacy Villapando, also a World Fire fighter Combat Challenge competitor this year, were selected by a committee of their peers to be Berwick Electric's Public Safety Employees of the Month in December.

I Want To Be A Firefighter

The dream of being a firefighter ignited when little Juliet Draper, a native of Cleveland, Ohio, was about five or six years old and watched "Emer gency," "Adam 12," and "SWAT." "I thought those jobs were the coolest. It never occurred to me that there weren't any women doing those things. I told my dad I wanted to be a soldier, a fireman or a policeman, and he said, "Go right ahead. There's no reason you can't do it."

But as a teenager, she went through a crazy, unsettled period. "I was a knuckle head. I knew it all. No one could talk to me. I did some pretty stupid things, did drugs, drinking under age. I was lucky I never got arrested." At age 23 she enlisted in the U.S. Army, went through basic training and firefighter training, and got stationed as a firefighter at Fort Carson. "I consider the military the great equalizer, especially the Army because about 94 percent of the jobs they have are available to women. When you're out in the field and a job has to be done, you all pull together to get it done. Race, age, gender doesn't matter. Afterwards you all celebrate together. It's a huge team- building experience.

After the Army, Draper applied for jobs with the Colorado Springs Police Department and the Fire Department. Her first call was from the Police Department, and two days before she was scheduled to start the Fire Department called with a job offer. She had to do some soul searching and in the end the Fire Department won.

Being a member of the Colorado Springs Fire Department is a real team effort, too. "I have to live with all these guys and they with me. We're at the station 24 hours a day. We clean up the fire house, wash the truck, check the equipment, cook, fight over what we're going to watch on TV. It's like having a bunch of brothers. And we have the same huge goal, saving lives.

For Draper, saving young lives sometimes involves reaching out to at-risk youth, like those whom she has addressed at Spring Creek Correctional Facility. Speaking from personal experience, she encourages them to seize opportunities for education and reminds them that success is a learned behavior.

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Firefighters Do Physical Work

Draper admits that today's firefighters receive fewer fire-related calls and more medically related calls: births, CPR, traffic accidents, shootings, stabbings, bar fights. They even give flu shots and check blood pressure. All firefighters are Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs); some are paramedics.

Fire departments don't deal with as many fires as they did years ago. Technological advances in building materials and sprinkler systems, stricter and better building codes as a result of past tragedies, and the fire prevention education have all contributed to reducing fire hazards. "But," Draper reminds me, "medical calls are still hard work. We have to haul heavy equipment up to the third floor, pick people up and put them on gurneys. Some of the folks we lift weigh quite a bit more than that 175-pound dummy in the competition. It's very physical work."

Draper works hard to stay in top form. She stands 5 feet, 9 inches tall, weighs about 185 pounds, and wears a size 13 shoe. She can bench press 225 pounds, squat 350 pounds, and dead lift 425 pounds. She has a body that closely resembles twisted steel. To say that she is physically fit, athletic and strong seems a pathetic understatement. "Going to the gym is an important part of my life, something I do before I go to work each day. Exercising helps me cope better with the events of the day."

Events such as traffic accidents are the most intense for Draper because the senses are over whelmed at the scene with sights, sounds and smells while her mind focuses on how to care for the injured. Only days or weeks later the smell of gasoline, the sight of a red jacket along the road, or the sound of scraping metal can trigger memories of the accident.

Such moments remind Draper how fragile life is. "A split second, the blink of an eye and someone’s life is altered forever. This has given me a zest for life. I want to enjoy what I'm doing every possible second. I don't want to waste my life. My favorite word is FUN.

Rogue Amazon

Life is fun for Juliet Draper. In addition to loving what she does for a living, she and her partner Pamela Jones formed a company called Rogue Amazon Entertainment, an outlet for Draper's musical and dramatic talents and for Jones' business acumen. One of their first projects, a play called "Zooman and the Sign", raised $10,000 in 1997 for the Colorado Springs Urban League Child Care Center, Head Start, and New Horizons School.

Rogue Amazon Entertainment recently released "Rogue Amazon," a five-cut vinyl and CD recorded at Magic Music Studios in Woodland Park, Colorado and with the help of some folks from Los Angeles. Upbeat, bouncy dance music described as Euro-Pop, it is doing well all across Europe and in Philadelphia and New York. On the recording Draper sings two versions of "Rogue Amazon" and three versions of a song called "I Need A Man," a song recorded in 1977 by Grace Jones, well- known actress and singer and older sister to Draper's partner Pamela.

Next on their plates is "Camille's Magic," a film project Rogue Amazon Entertainment hopes to begin shooting in 2001, written by Pamela Jones, Robert Wooldridge (owner of Gertrude's), and others. For information about Rogue Amazon Entertainment, Juliet Draper, Pamela Jones, and their projects, visit their web site: www.rogueamazon.com.

A Dream Come True

Being a firefighter is a dream come true not only for Draper but also for her father whose own dream of becoming a firefighter for the Cleveland Fire Department in the 1960s never materialized. As he explained matter of factly to her, "They weren't hiring blacks back then." As Draper said, "He was in great shape and in the top ten on the list, but when that door didn't open for him, he opened another. He took a job in the post office and worked his way up to general manager. He's thrilled at my being a firefighter. Fortunately in this day and age I got the torch. My motto is, Give me the ball; I'll run with it."

Does Juliet Draper foresee a day when she won't be a firefighter any longer...like, when age creeps in? There was a long, audible gasp at the question and then she said, "I look at Jack Lalane, my idol. He is in his 80s and does 100 push-ups every day, not as fast, but he still does them. As long as I take care of myself, I'll be a firefighter as long as I can. If I progress in my career, the administrative responsibilities will replace the strenuous physical ones."

"I love being active and doing things, so for me the job of being a firefighter is a good match, a great package of things. Every day is different from the next and I like that. There's a lot of depth to being a firefighter."