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Central Emergency Services firefighter Josh Thompson jumps into the Kenai River as part of a nation-wide Cold Water Challenge that has raised more than $150,000 for the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation.

Freezin' for reason: Local firefighters jump in to national Cold Water Challenge

Posted: June 27, 2014 - 6:22pm  |  Updated: June 28, 2014 - 7:41pm
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Jessica Bookey films her firefighter husband Terry Bookey as he prepares to jump off of the Kenai City Dock as part of a Cold Water Challenge for charity in Kenai, Alaska.   Photo by Rashah McChesney/Peninsula Clarion
Photo by Rashah McChesney/Peninsula Clarion
Jessica Bookey films her firefighter husband Terry Bookey as he prepares to jump off of the Kenai City Dock as part of a Cold Water Challenge for charity in Kenai, Alaska.

Brett Bishop, a lieutenant in the Astoria, Oregon fire department, accepted the challenge and passed it along to Jason Dunagen who jumped into the Pacific Ocean near Warrington, Oregon. Dunagen tagged Central Emergency Services firefighter Josh Thompson who jumped off the Kenai City Dock into the Kenai River after tagging fellow CES firefighters Terry Bookey, Daniel Jensen and Kenai firefighter Jeremy Hamilton. 

The game, to donate $10 to charity and jump into a body of cold water or skip the dunk and donate $100 — has captured the imagination of several hundred firefighters and emergency services personnel nationwide. 

The Cold Water Challenge videos posted online range from obviously cold and brief dips in the Kenai River and the Pacific Ocean on the western seaboard, to questionably cold jumps into swimming pools and makeshift tubs in South Carolina and Texas, to the absurd, such as the video firefighter and blogger Rhett Fleitz posted on his site, firecritic.com, which featured a shower-cap clad, beer-drinking, cigar-smoking, mostly-naked man dumping bags of ice into a bathtub before challenging several of his friends.

Silly or not, firefighters participating in the challenge had raised more than $150,000 for the National Fallen Firefighter’s Foundation, said Ronald Siarnicki, executive director of the foundation. 

“It started as a grassroots effort in the fire service and has gone viral,” wrote Siarnicki in an email. “It demonstrates the caring nature of the fire service community and their ability to keep the competitive nature they use each day in protecting the public up front as an effort to help the families of our nations fallen firefighters.”

There are some variations on the rules but, in general, here’s a how it works: 

ν A firefighter, paramedic, emergency services support person or other gets “tagged” either through Facebook, YouTube or some other public venue.

ν They have 24 hours to accept the challenge and dunk themselves in cold water.

ν If the challenge is accepted and the person takes a dip, they donate $10 to a designated charity; if the challenge is refused they’re compelled to donate $100 to the same charity. 

ν Those who accept, tag others to participate.

While some firefighters have chosen to donate to other organizations, the vast majority of videos on Facebook feature the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation. The Maryland-based organization was created by Congress to lead a nationwide effort to remember fallen firefighters, according to its website. The non-profit has been operating since 1992 developing programs to honor firefighters and help the families and coworkers of firefighters who die in the line of duty. 

Several Central Emergency Services, Kenai and Nikiski firefighters have been tagged, including Thompson who accepted Dunagen’s challenge because, he said, he is susceptible to a dare. 

Thompson jumped off of the Kenai city dock into the Kenai River after tagging other CES firefighters, two in Anchorage and a buddy in the Army in Texas.

While Thompson didn’t make it into the water within the 24-hour window, he said he had a good reason as he was working a 72-hour shift when he was tagged. He also made fun of Dunagen for swimming from a beach in Oregon. 

“I’m not convinced that’s very cold,” Thompson said.  

But, it’s fun and for a good cause and Thompson said he thought firefighters in Alaska would pick up on the game. 

“I imagine it’ll spread pretty rapidly,” Thompson said. “The fun part about the fire department is that it becomes a competition.”

Another CES firefighter, Matt Tegerdine, posted a video of himself jumping off of a float plane. CES firefighter Jake Lamphier jumped into Longmere Lake in Soldotna before tagging another CES firefighter, one in the Mat-Su Valley and another in Washington State. 

The fundraiser has spread rapidly in the last few months with firefighters and departments in Maryland, Rhode Island, Mississippi, New York and Illinois posting to a Cold Water Challenge 2014 Facebook page. But, while most of the videos have been relatively tame, one landed a few firefighters in hot water. A video posted to YouTube by the Washington Township Fire Department in south New Jersey showed a man knocked to the ground after being hit with a stream of water from a firehose. That video earned reprimands for several in the department as the firefighters involved were on-duty and using equipment from the town’s firestation, according to CBSPhilly. 

Astoria Fire Chief Ted Ames said he went for a swim near Warrington, Oregon as well. 

“We’re a pretty small department,” Ames said. “Nine on shift, myself, a deputy chief and a few interns; to the best of my knowledge five or six of us have done the challenge.”

Ames said he was called out by one of the department’s interns. 

While Ames remembers swimming in Alaska’s cold waters when he worked as a fisherman and in the king crab industry, he said it’s the first time he’s jumped into the water for a charity event. 

“I’m not a big social media person, I just do what my interns and firefighters tell me,” he said, laughing. 

 Rashah McChesney can be reached at rashah.mcchesney@peninsulaclarion.com.

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