HOOVER, Ala. (WIAT) — Hundreds of firefighters from all over the nation are in Hoover to compete in the 2023 National Firefighter Challenge championship.

Several local firefighters are competing this week and they spoke about how much physical and mental strength it takes to cross the finish line.

At the sound of the whistle, firefighters go head-to-head in a race against time putting their fire rescue abilities and physical fitness to the test.

“We are what we like to call occupational athletes,” said competing Vestavia Hills firefighter Ana Ruzevic. “So, you know, it’s just trying to stay in the best possible physical shape for my job, for myself, for my family and ultimately for my guys on shift.”

“It’s basically a lifestyle,” added competing Pelham firefighter Jake Lanier. “You have to train on the course, weight train, you have to eat healthy. It’s all important.”

Lanier is the 2019 firefighter challenge world champion. He said he was raised to work hard and care for others. This competition is the perfect challenge.

“When someone’s in need, I want to be able to help out and that’s why I try to keep myself ready because you never know,” said Lanier. “When the bell hits, you’ve got to be ready.”

“If I can help, you know, help fix somebody’s day even just a little bit, and make a difference, that means absolutely a lot to me,” said Ruzevic. “And like I said, I think that’s what we really do in the core of our career.”

Regardless of competition results, Hoover Fire Chief Clay Bentley said the firefighter challenge promotes the value of physical fitness.

“Not everyone can bench press 300 pounds and not everyone can run a marathon, but we need everyone to be as healthy and fit as they can be,” said Chief Bentley. “And so that’s our goal for this entire competition.”

Local firefighters will kick things off today with the Alabama Fire Service Showdown. Wednesday through Saturday you can catch all the championship competition events. All competition events are free for the entire family to enjoy.