Of all the runners taking part in last week’s Hannibal Cannibal, the group that likely drew the most second looks was the one dressed as firefighters.
With the exception of their shoes, the six individuals, five of whom are members of the Canton Fire Department, wore full turnout gear - helmets, coats and pants - plus an air pack on their back.
“I don’t think people have any clue of what they went through in five miles. Unless you’ve ever had full turnout gear on you have no idea. It’s like putting a parka on in July,” said Jeff McReynolds, Canton fire chief. “I would guess they had 40 to 50 pounds of equipment on them.”
What would inspire the five men and one woman to add to the challenges the course already provides? As it turned out, the group had not lost a bet. They were running for not one, but two good causes - the Firefighter Turnout Challenge, an event that supports the National Firefighters Endowment, and in memory of the 19 firefighters who died June 30 fighting a forest fire in Arizona.
The Canton firefighters raised $900 for the endowment, which supports the families of lost firefighters.
“We found this Turnout Challenge a week-and-a-half before the race,” said Joe LaCount, assistant Canton fire chief. “We were scared when we came into it that fund-raising was going to be tough. We first set our goal at $300. In the first day-and-a-half we passed that. Then we went for the $750 mark and by the end of the first week we had passed that. After that we quit setting goals, closed our eyes and just went for it.”
According to LaCount, running in honor of the firefighters who died out west seemed fitting.
“It was a group decision. When it happened we all just said, you know what, this is what we’re going to do,” he said.
Running in honor of their fallen brothers was well received.
“A lot of people stopped us afterwards and wanted pictures with the ‘19 from Prescott’ (placard) on our back, because we had all their names on our packs with us,” said LaCount. “We actually had somebody that was born and raised in Prescott come up and thank us.”
Even those who didn’t know why the firefighters were running cheered them on.
“We were overwhelmed by the support, the cheers and thanks we got from everybody down there,” said LaCount. “I’d run the Cannibal four times and I’ve ran other races. But this one I felt like I was running on air most of it because the response we got from the audience was so great. We all agreed underneath our gear were goose bumps.”
Page 2 of 2 - In addition to LaCount, also representing the Canton Fire Department were Assistant Chief Delbert Brumbaugh, Capt. Jason Darnell, firefighters Ronda LaCount, Toby Wilson, and Brumbaugh’s nephew, Nathan Anderson.
The group took part after only a brief training period.
“We actually started practicing as a team in our gear a week-and-a-half before the race,” said LaCount with a chuckle. “Really we didn’t start a whole lot before that, that’s why we finished in 58 minutes.”
But a 58-minute finish in the 5-kilometer leg of the annual race was acceptable.
“That was our aim, to finish in less than an hour,” said LaCount. “We started with six of us and our goal was to finish with six of us side by side. That was our aim, and to get (endowment) awareness out there, to honor those boys from Prescott and to have a good time. And we had a good time.”
“I’m really proud of them,” said McReynolds. “It was for a great cause and was a lot of work for them.”
The Cannibal may not be the group’s last race in firefighter garb. Contemplation is being given to taking part in the CASA Superhero Family Fun Run/Walk on Saturday, July 27, in Hannibal.
“I don’t know if the whole team will do it, but a few of us are planning to,” said LaCount.