Carrying fire hoses, scaling rooftops, running through water, dodging clouds of smoke and navigating through pitch-black spaces all are obstacles firefighters face — and now two of Hyattsville’s own have put together a similar experience for the “average Joe.”

Hyattsville volunteer firefighters Chris Hebert and Dave Iannone have spent the last year creating Hero Rush, a firefighter-themed 5K obstacle course being developed for 12 events nationwide.

“We really wanted to focus on realistic obstacles that firefighters will encounter in their daily job,” said Hebert, an Upper Marlboro resident. “We want racers to come away saying, ‘The fire service is no joke. They have a tough job. I had a blast and have a lot more respect for the fire service now.’”

The course, which will be put together at each state’s event, combines almost every experience a firefighter will go through in training or in the field and presents challenging obstacles such as dark mazes with strobe lights and foam pits, timing the racer along the way.

Iannone, a Columbia resident, said the idea for Hero Rush formed after the firefighters gained media and public safety experience throughout their volunteer fire fighting careers. He said they’ve identified a growing popularity in challenge courses or “mud runs,” which feature military-style obstacle courses for the general public.

“This is an emerging industry that is getting couch potatoes off the couch,” Iannone said. “This gives them a fun event that is a pretty healthy thing to do.”

Not just shining light on the firefighter experience, Iannone said they wanted to tie Hero Rush to the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation, a nonprofit organization that offers programs and services to honor fallen firefighters and support their families.

The foundation “is constantly evaluating the causes of line-of-duty deaths and looking at ways to prevent them. They’re investing in new technology to allow us to do our jobs safer,” Hebert said. “They’re not funded enough, and we’re a very proud supporter of them.”

The firefighters plan to donate $20 to the foundation for every participant who signs up for Hero Rush. The cost for participants starts at $55 and goes up depending on when they register.

Kathy Hendrick, the foundation’s corporate relations specialist, said Hero Rush is a great way to get the average consumer to contribute to the foundation’s goal of supporting families of fallen firefighters and working to reduce the number of line-of-duty deaths.

In 2010, there were 87 firefighter fatalities nationwide, according to the National Fire Data Center. During a six-year period from 2004 to 2009, the average number of annual firefighter deaths was 112.

“I think this is a very unique venue for not only firefighters to give back but for the community in general to contribute,” Hendrick said. “I believe this will bridge the gap between firefighters and the public so the community knows what we have to sacrifice.”

Iannone said about four years ago, he and Hebert created Go Forward Media, a Columbia-based marketing firm that spawned after they created firefighter
nation.com
and firehouse.com, two news/social networking sites for those in the fire service. Hebert said it was these projects that helped spawn Hero Rush.

Hebert said he met when he joined the Hyattsville company in 1994, and they have been collaborating on projects since that time.

“For firehouse.com, we basically built that out of the [Hyattsville Volunteer Fire Department],” he said. “We grew that and that led us to some more opportunities and more connections, so we’ve sort of cast a wide net.”

Hendrick said a lot of those working for Emmitsburg-based firefighters foundation previously have volunteered or currently are volunteering in the Prince George’s County Fire Department, which she said made it easy for them to partner for Hero Rush. She said she did not know specifically how many are volunteer firefighters in Prince George’s, but that volunteers from almost every department in the county have worked with or helped the foundation in some way.

“Having Dave and I meet in Hyattsville for the first time, sparking all of this, has allowed us to create a network and allowed us to walk into fire stations across the country and have conversation about Hero Rush and have some backing,” Hebert said.

Hebert said they plan to incorporate local fire departments into each of their Hero Rush events to host small demonstrations and distribute fire safety information as a feature in the Inferno Midway, which Hebert said will be a unique feature in the Hero Rush events and a place for spectators to have some involvement. He said in other obstacle course-type events, spectators are mostly left out, so the Midway is an area on the course grounds that will feature live music, area vendors and a local fire company’s demonstrations and smaller obstacles.

Hebert declined to say how much the venture costs, but said racers will not feel like Hebert and Iannone “cheaped out” on anything. He said much of the equipment and obstacles they’ve put together will travel with them in a caravan of vans and trailers, while a small portion may come from the actual site.

The events will start in Clarksville for the inaugural event in April. The course will travel to 10 additional states in two-week increments for the 2012 tour and will include Minnesota, Michigan, Texas, California, Oregon, Illinois, Pennsylvania, New York, Florida and North Carolina.

Hebert said they have aggressive plans for venues in 2013 and that they hope to make it a continuous, annual series.

For information on how to participate, go to www.herorush.com.