Firefighter Olympics helps crews relax


"It was important that they got together, away from the fires, and that we were here for them as a support and a release for their time," said Mike Pera, the event organizer.

It's the first real break a lot of these firefighters have had since May when the worst fire season in California history started. That's why having the 37th Annual Firefighter Olympics, was even more important this year.

It gives firefighters a chance to compete in several events, everything from basketball to ping pong, but more importantly, meet other fire fighters. Given the number of fires expected this summer, they could be on the same fire line.

"It's a group of firefighters that understands what everyone's gone through this year with all the fires," said Pera.

"I went to Mariposa and to Big Sur, got home, and then worked another five days straight. So I was on for 12 days in a row," said Lucas Bauer from the Garden Grove Fire Department.

Even though Bauer is here at the games, he, like so many others, is exhausted.

The wildfires are also impacting attendance. Normally there are 2,400 firefighters at this event. This year, there are only 1,800, that is the lowest in 19 years. The reason is because so many fire fighters are still out on the line.

"We need to have more firefighters on hand to fight these fires," said Steve Chandler from the Richmond Fire Department.

Chandler has been fighting fires for 25 years. He thinks state and federal agencies need to work together to fix the firefighter shortage. He also hopes once President Bush tours some fire damaged areas on Thursday, California's needs will become clear.

"It's a priority thing. Don't worry about oil, don't worry about Iraq. Worry about your nation and the firefighters who are helping people in this nation," said Chandler.

However for now, the focus is on relaxing, winning a firefighter Olympics medal, and not worrying about what may happen once they return to work.

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