Bibb firefighter is state’s quickest dresser

It all started with a little trash talking at the fire station.

Several months later, Macon-Bibb County firefighter Ellen Kicklighter has been honored as the fastest firefighter in the state when it comes to getting dressed into her fire gear.

Kicklighter, a 43-year-old mother of two, beat out other Macon-Bibb firefighters during competition at the Cherry Blossom Festival in March and won the right to represent the department at a state competition in Savannah last month.

It only took 44 seconds to win the title.

She kicked off her tennis shoes, jumped into fire boots and pants, pulled up her suspenders, slid a protective hood over her head and put on her coat.

After zipping up the coat and closing Velcro straps, Kicklighter turned on her air pack and slung it over her head onto her back. Then she put on a mask and connected it to her air pack, put on a helmet and slipped a set of gloves onto her hands.

Kicklighter says her record is 38 seconds.

Capt. Nathaniel Hall said firefighters must be able to get dressed within two minutes to meet minimum firefighting standards.

“In the event of a real emergency, it’s what we go through,” Chief Marvin Riggins said. “It’s good training.”

Hall said there are advantages to being able to put on fire gear quickly. For example, firefighters become more familiar with putting on and connecting their air tanks and masks.

“You’re on top of your game,” he said.

Kicklighter said being ready first means that when her crew is responding to a fire, she might be able to get a jump on what needs to be done in the pressure-packed setting.

Hall said he competed as a “quick dresser” earlier in his career and served as Kicklighter’s coach for the competition.

He and Kicklighter trained for a couple of hours during shifts they worked together before the competition, Hall said.

While it might seem cumbersome to repeatedly put on fire gear only to take it back off, Hall said the repetition is helpful and that a firefighter’s attitude is a key to success.

“You’ve got to have a good attitude to do it.”

Kicklighter said luck played a big part in her winning the competition.

“You have to practice, but you hope nothing malfunctions on the day of the competition,” she said.

Assistant Chief Cliff Rushin said firefighters from Macon-Bibb County have won the quick dress competition for the past several years.

Beside Kicklighter’s win this year, firefighters from Macon also brought home second place honors in the state bucket brigade, gated double hose advance and team rapid dress competitions. The department came in third place overall out of about a dozen teams, he said.

Kicklighter has to keep her skills sharp, since she’s planning to compete again in 2011 to defend her title. “I think she’ll win again next year,” Hall said.