Many people know the Arnold Sports Festival for the Arnold Classic and the expo that captures the attention of fans and businesses alike. One of the events that is quickly rising as a crowd favorite is the World’s Strongest Firefighter (WSFF) contest.
The 2023 edition was held in the Arnold Expo at the Greater Columbus Convention Center in Columbus, OH, and the champion would be Andrew Burton, an amateur strongman and professional firefighter from Rock Wall, TX. This was Burton’s first time competing in the event, and he finished his debut by receiving the trophy from Arnold Schwarzenegger himself.
“It was a great feeling, man,” said Burton. His community and his wife may be prouder of it than he is.
“She won’t let me forget that I’m the World’s Strongest Firefighter. She’s said it more times than I have.
Burton was one of 18 finalists that advanced from the preliminary rounds, and they were set to compete in four different events – all with firefighting themes. Burton had five weeks to prepare for this competition after signing up. Contest organizer Noah Justin played a big role in the formation of this contest as well as its progression to be a big attraction for the Arnold weekend.
“Arnold wanted to create events that showed off the incredible strength of these men and women in uniform,” he explained. These events paid homage to both the sport of strongman and strongwoman while being unique to this competition.
Burton had access to some equipment at his fire station, and he trained at home as well. Scheduling the time to train would be his greatest challenge.
“I always tried to make sure I was doing something substantial while I was at work because I had so much time there, even when we were running calls. With the sleeping schedule we have, some days I was just obliterated, and I would make those straight cardio days.
Ambulance Tire Deadlift
The Arnold Strongman Classic used to have a Hummer Tire Deadlift, which was visually impressive to the fans and challenging for the competitors because of how the weight was distributed. The organizers of the WSFF opted to do their own version of this.
“We took tires from an ambulance for the deadlift instead.”
Counting the bar and tires, the men’s open competitors, which Burton was one of, had to lift 600 pounds for as many reps as possible within one minute. Burton is 6’3”, which meant he had to pull the bar a long distance to lockout. Nonetheless, he tied for second place with 16 reps. Burton said that this was a challenging event for him because of the setup.
“I trained with a deadlift bar because I knew their bar was going to be so long and have more give,” he shared. Fortunately for him, he had been training with an axle barbell, which is more solid and has a thicker grip, so the work he did before transferred to this event. Working with the two bars served as the combination he needed to succeed. He just had to improve endurance and knock out reps and more reps.
“I had multiple weeks of training of pulling from that position with partly a very straight bar and the deadlift bar at the end helped me get a feel for the implement.”
Next, the athletes had to carry three different sandbags 40 feet as quickly as possible. Some fire departments use a drill similar to this during training. The bags Burton had to work with were 220, 250, and 300 pounds, respectively. He finished this event in fifth place with a time of 43.33 seconds. In his defense, the top five finishers were less than three seconds apart, and Burton lost his balance carrying the final bag, which held him up. Since Burton competes in strongman, and this is a common event, he already had sandbags he could work with. This one was a matter of mastering technique, and he used a slightly smaller bag to help prepare as well.
“I have a 300-pound bag at my house. That one is just at that threshold where it gets taxing on the body,” said Burton. “I could train with a 271-pound bag, and it was in that nice area where I could train but not be trashed.”
The third event of the afternoon was similar to a traditional crucifix hold, except the firefighters had to use axes with weights on the bottom. Your back is against a wall or board, your arms had to be parallel to the floor and your job was to hold the axes in that position for as long as possible. Burton managed to keep two 25-pound axes in the air for just under one minute. He placed third in the event. Aside from fighting gravity, your shoulders, arms, and core are all working hard on this event.
“I knew that was going to be one of my worst events,” he admitted. “I don’t know anybody that does lateral raises and then holds them at the end.”
What Burton opted to do was start by holding 20-pound dumbbells and work for a time of 75 seconds. After he reached that goal, he worked up to heavier dumbbells. He could last one minute plus with the 25’s.
“Typically, it would be internal rotation in one of my shoulders that would cause me to drop. I just had to do more static holds.”
Fire Hydrant Load
The last event was the Fire Hydrant Load. Competitors had to lift four hydrants that were progressively heavier than the last up onto podiums and stand them up. The hydrants that Burton had to use weighed in a range of 175 to 250 pounds. It’s hard to find hydrants in general, much less those that would be that heavy. So, Justin and his team compromised.
“So naturally, we had fire hydrants detached, gutted and plate loaded for the load. The plates were on the bottom.”
Burton won this event by lifting all four hydrants up onto their platforms in 17.17 seconds, and it clinched him the championship. Leave it to a professional firefighter to find the best solution to prepare for this one. Nothing beats training for an event with an odd object like having one of your own.
“I was lucky enough that we had a fire hydrant that we didn’t use for our station. It was just laying around collecting dust. So, I cleaned it off, and that sucker weighed 225 pounds. I couldn’t have gotten any luckier. Mine was much larger than theirs, and it had all the steamer heads on.”
Even though Burton has this title under his belt, he’s not done competing in 2023. He is still preparing for the United States Strongman National championships in June, and the Strongman Corporation Nationals in October in Pennsylvania. To keep up with him and see more from the 2023 contest, you can follow him on Instagram @aburton428 and the World’s Strongest Firefighter organization @asfworldsstrongestfirefighter.