Story and photos by John Van Winkle
Academy Public Affairs
LAS VEGAS, Nevada — A world record has fallen three times this year at the boots of an Academy Airman and a Colorado Springs Firefighter.
Airman 1st Class Jessica Morehouse of the Academy Fire Department teamed up with Stacy Billapando from the Colorado Springs Fire Department to create the team of “Old Dog, New Trick,” in the Firefighter Combat Challenge.
The Firefighter Combat Challenge simulates the physical demands of real-life firefighting by running firefighters through a series of five back-to-back-breaking tasks. Firefighters running the course must master the technique of each physical event while running against the clock. The five tasks in the challenge include lifting a firehose up five stories, simulating a forced entry into a building, hitting a small target with water from a firehose and dragging a 175-lb dummy backwards across a finish line to “safety.”
Billapando is a veteran firefighter combat challenge competitor who has trained with the Academy teams for several years, and currently the top-ranked female firefighter in the world. But this is her first year actually teaming with the Academy Fire Department for actual competitions.
Airman Morehouse is in her rookie season of competition. The Airman has been in uniform for only two years, and at the Academy for one. Yet she’s making a mark in the Firefighter Combat Challenge. Both firefighters anchor the USAFA-CSFD ladies relay team in this event as well. Both teams ran in the firefighter combat challenge regionals at USAFA in June, and qualified to movve up to the nationals. While the womens’ tandem and relay teams expected to compete, they didn’t expect to be instantly become the national front-runners in their categories.
“We did the relay team for fun, and we ended up being pretty good at it,” said Airman Morehouse. “We’re all good friends on the teams, and not only do you have fun training for the competition, but you also get better at your job.”
“We ran, and afterward, we realized we could do something amazing,” added Billapando.
As is typical for Air Force Academy Fire Department teams, they chose select regional competitions to continue competing, to further hone their skills. In the tandem event, Billapando and Airman Morehouse first broke the womens’ tandem world record at the firefighter challenge regionals in Omaha, Neb., with a time of 2:06.22. Their next closest competitors clocked in at 3 minutes and 16 seconds.
A week later, the duo and set the bar higher for their fellow female firefighters with a new world record time of 2:00.78 at the nationals in Arlington, Texas. They finished 40 seconds ahead of their closest competitors.
In the tandem, Billapando runs the first half of the course, while Airman Morehouse closes out their run. “The reason I chose to team with Jessica is that she’s a really strong girl and she has that mentality of ‘whatever it takes.’ Her dummy drag is amazing and is probably the fastest I’ve ever seen,” said Billapando.
This week, they’re at the World Firefighter Combat Challenge XVIII in downtown Las Vegas. On Monday, they broke their own world record with a time of 1:59.91, more than 18 seconds ahead of their nearest competitors. With that, the duo advances to the finals, and their plans for the finals are decidely simple.
“We’ll try to break the world record again,” said Billapando, referring to both the USAFA-CSFD ladies tandem and the ladies relay teams. “What’s scary about this team is that they get faster every time.”
The duo of Billapando and Airman Morehouse are one of six Air Force Academy teams competing in the World Firefighter Combat Challenge XVIII. Full results of the competition will be available in the next issue of the Academy Spirit.