HOOVER, Ala. (WIAT) — The 2023 National Firefighter Challenge continues in Hoover.

The Alabama Fire Service showdown kicked things off Tuesday and championship competition events officially started Wednesday morning. At the course, firefighters from across 20 states are competing for the national title.

There are 127 participants, and the competition’s chief engagement officer said 24% are women. They’ll take on various obstacles simulating fire rescue situations that could happen in real life. This includes a stair climb, victim rescue, hose advancement and forceable entry, all in full gear.

Sarah McGill, a firefighter from Lexington, Kentucky who was the female national champion last year, said it’s incredibly difficult, but so worth it. Last year was her first full year of competing. McGill said the competition brings her a community of friendship and helps her be the best firefighter she can be.

“It’s a lot of fun and, you know, I can think of specific times working on a fire at home where I’ve thought to myself, I wouldn’t be able to do this a year ago,” McGill said. “You know, getting in shape, that fitness level bringing that up just makes you a better fireman on the fire ground. So, it’s worth it.”

What’s neat about this competition is you won’t just see firefighters tackling the course. Michael Coleman and his wife Kristen Loftis are first responders from Memphis, Tennessee. He’s a firefighter, but she’s an ER nurse.

Coleman started competing first and was last year’s rookie of the year, but he said the challenge allows a wide variety of first responders to compete.

“And I drug her out here onto the course,” Coleman said. “Last year she tried it out in the civilian weights, which everything is diminished, and this year she started running out on air, full weights turn out, everything.”

Loftis said they’ve grown even stronger in their marriage since they started training and competing together.

“I didn’t think there was any way I could ever do it,” she said. “And I’ve just kind of progressed with the weights and doing the full thing. And it’s a wonderful community. Everyone is very accepting, and we’ve made some great friends from all across the country, and it’s been wonderful.”

Loftis said completing this course is very hard, but the fellowship with friends and quality time with her husband is priceless.

There are also a few firefighters in from overseas helping behind the scenes. Aidan Grant is a firefighter from New Zealand who’s helping out on the course this week. He hopes to learn more before he competes at the world challenge in October. Grant said he’s braving the Alabama heat, but loves the area.

“It’s awesome,” said Grant. “We’ve had some really good meals since I’ve been here. So, everyone’s really welcoming and really interested to talk about the event and what we’re doing here and why I came all the way over.”

The challenge will be held at the Hoover Met through Saturday. For more information, click here.