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Dalton firefighter Matt Vess drags a 1 3/4" fire hose 75 feet during the annual Georgia Police and Fire Games Toughest Firefighter competition Thursday at the Dalton Fire Department Station 2 Training Center in Dalton, Ga. Firefighters from across the state competed in the events, which consisted of performing a high rise pack carry, hose hoist, forcible entry, hose advance and victim rescue while wearing firefighting gear.

DALTON, Ga. - Bartow County firefighter Jason Sisson could wear shorts and running shoes when he exercises to stay in shape for his job.

But Sisson figures that's not realistic enough.

So he suits up in an old set of turnout gear - the heavy, hot protective suits firefighters wear - and then straps a spare air tank on his back and goes for a run, usually near his fire station.

"Sometimes I'll run at home in my subdivision," Sisson said. "Everyone looks at you like you're crazy. And, for the most part, I am."

That unorthodox training paid off Thursday morning when Sisson, 32, competed in the "toughest firefighter" contest at the Georgia Police and Fire Games, which is being held this week through Saturday in and around Dalton.

Sisson was one of 21 firefighters to enter the grueling contest that included the following:

• Carrying a 40-pound bundle of old fire hose up four flights of stairs at the Dalton Fire Department's training tower.

• Hammering a 160-pound steel beam on the "Keiser Force Machine" that simulates chopping into a roof.

• Dragging "Rescue Randy," a 155-pound mannequin, backward for 100 feet.

"Dragging that dummy is the hardest part. Your legs are like Jell-O when you're done," said Sisson, who finished the course at just over 2 minutes and 43 seconds.

That was enough to win Sisson first place among three contestants in the 30- to 34-age category and third place overall.

The fastest firefighter at just over 2 minutes and 31 seconds was also one of the oldest, Cherokee County Fire Sgt. Rick Ehlke, 45, who came to the competition with Cherokee County Fire Capt. Tom Pelletier, the senior competitor at age 46.

"We're the old men," Ehlke said before the contest began. "You can suffer through anything for three minutes."

Second-place winner, Quincy Miller, 36, of the Columbus Fire Department finished in just under 2 minutes and 43 seconds.

Miller said he was "sleep-deprived," because he worked until 11 p.m. then got up at 4 a.m. to make the drive to Dalton with his wife Tanya Miller, their daughter Kennedi, and fellow Columbus firefighter Eddie Ramirez.

"I work good under pressure," Miller said. "But that's what we have to be good at: Working under pressure."

Contact staff writer Tim Omarzu at or 423-757-6651.