Any good rodeo attracts cowboys of all backgrounds and the upcoming TRx Challenge in Phoenix, AZ, December 4 and 5, is no exception. Although seasoned tower hands from the telecom industry are drawn to having a fun and challenging time pitting themselves against each other in a series of planned competitions, some first responders have answered the call for different reasons.

Two volunteer firefighters from southeastern Pennsylvania, Chris Feder and Kevin Swan, are willing to make the long trek from Philly to Phoenix to learn climbing and rescue techniques that they say have gone virtually untaught in their industry. They view it as an invaluable training event more than a competition.

“COVID stopped a lot of training for us,” said Feder, a 25-year veteran firefighter with a technical rescue background with the Montgomery County (PA) Urban Search and Rescue team (MCUSR). “I like competition,” he said, “and it’s a little bit of a vacation, but really it’s a chance to train and learn from others.” An Assistant Chief with the Penn Wynne Fire Company, Feder said in the firefighting field, the approach is to send would-be rescuers to one or two classes on tower rescue and that would be the limit of their education. “With these tower rescues, firefighters don’t get any experience at height. You don’t know how someone is going to react to that until they’ve done it.” Feder said that he and fellow squad member Swan have been up 300 feet on a tower, but that’s rare for first responders.

Both men work full time in the medical field and hope they can bring some unique perspective to telecom tower hands in an exchange of safety techniques. “We want to see how others do what we do. But they do it safely and they do it often.”

Founder of the Rodeo, Kathy Gill, and owner of the event site hosted by her company Tower Safety & Rescue Training, said she hoped to see a coming together of various safety and rescue techniques. “It’s not just about competition,” she said, “but the focus is really on safety and making us all better at our jobs. If tower crews can pick up insights from fire crews and vice versa, then who wins what contest is secondary.”

Gill’s event will feature six challenges that are set up to test the participants’ ability to traverse her cell tower matrix using rope, PPE, and appropriate hardware. Each participant starts from a staging area near the towers and is required to visit six workstations throughout, performing a specified task at each station. Each station on the tower is equipped with a bell (or horn); the participant shall ring the bell (or sound the horn) before continuing to the next station.

“It’s going to be fun,” Gill said. “But we want it to be a good learning environment as well.”