The respect, camaraderie and the rush of competition are the things that bring Altus firefighter Michael Grayson back each year to the National Firefighters Combat Challenge. In October 2017, Grayson was inducted into the Lion’s Den, an award that recognizes athletes who go above and beyond in competition.
Grayson has been with Altus Fire and Rescue for 11 years, and he’s been to countless competitions going to as many as he can each year. And he doesn’t plan on stopping anytime soon.
Grayson qualified for the Lion’s Den award for having the fastest running time in his age group — over 50. To qualify he had to run the course in under 2 min, 30 sec. Grayson shaved 10 seconds off that time to qualify for a Lion’s Den jacket. Grayson said there are 10 Lion’s Den jackets in Oklahoma, and five of them are in Altus.
Grayson is proud to wear one of those five, but he’s quick to point out his team and his fellow firefighters, saying he couldn’t have done so well without them.
In the 10 years that he’s been competing, Grayson has come to admire and respect his team and build friendships with people from all over the world.
He’s run individually, but he enjoys relays and tandems much more. According to Grayson, there’s an increased physical strain when competing individually because it requires going through all five events alone. Those five events include a stair climb, hose hoist, forcible entry, hose advance and victim rescue — all intended to help firefighters increase their skill at fighting structural fires.
Grayson takes this part of the competition very seriously. He knows he can’t control a structure fire, but he can control how to prepare to fight one. He spends the colder months working out and said he would continue to do so even if he stops competing.
But the competition isn’t all serious. Competitors wear wigs under their helmets, share inside jokes and enjoy getting to know each other between competitions.
“We have fun,” Grayson said. “It keeps me in shape, helps me to be better at my job and has given me the opportunity to meet so many talented people.”
When the weather begins to warm up, in March and April, Grayson hits the training course. Altus Fire and Rescue has a replicated training course located behind the fire station on Main Street. You can see the six flights of stairs rising behind the station.
Nearly every firefighter working at Altus Fire and Rescue has competed during the last 17 years, Grayson said, and the training course is the only thing that really prepares him for the real deal.
Because Grayson enjoys competing in a group, he’s part of Team Dr. Pepper. And for him, it’s about more than having a good sponsor.
“This man from Germany — can’t speak much English — recognized me last year and said ‘We’re coming for you Team Dr. Pepper,’ because they know we work hard and take the competition seriously,” Grayson said.
Respect between his teammates and the other teams is also what keeps Grayson coming back.
“We offer tips to the other teams to help them get better,” Grayson said. “Knowing we’ll have to compete against them and might lose, but it doesn’t matter. We’re there to get better.”