Campus & Community

Palm Beach State Invitational brings 600 first responders to Lake Worth

The Firefighters Challenge (Links to event photo albums are at the end of the story.)

On May 2, Elizabeth Niedbalski waited in the 90-degree heat to compete in the Palm Beach State College Invitational on the Lake Worth campus. Her task: Hoist a 42-pound hose to the top of a five-story tower; drag a 160-pound steel beam across the parking lot using a mallet; negotiate a slalom obstacle course; then “rescue” a 165-pound mannequin by lifting and dragging it more than 100-feet. The catch? She had to do it in two minutes and all while wearing layers of heavy-duty protective gear, a helmet and gloves. Welcome to the Firefighters Challenge. “It’s called the toughest two minutes in sports for a reason, so it’s a great feeling just to finish,” said Niedbalski, a firefighter with the Palm Beach County Fire Department. Her fellow Palm Beach County firefighter, Jesse Gomez agreed: “We’re all here to see how fast and how far we can push ourselves.”

Gomez and Niedbalski were part of one of the more than 50 teams of 381 competitors from across the state of Florida and even as far afield as Canada who took part in the second inaugural PBS Invitational, the brainchild of PBSC Fire Recruit Director David Hamel.  The six-day event, which ran from Monday, April 29 through Saturday, May 4, is the only competition in the U.S. to feature five types of public safety challenges in one event: vehicle extrication, rope rescue, rapid intervention rescue, advanced life support (ALS) and a firefighter challenge. Events simulate real-world emergency scenarios with PBSC public safety students portraying the victims.  “This event was a phenomenal success,” Hamel said. “It was bigger and better than last year– we hosted nearly with nearly double the number of participants and sponsors– and we added educational training sessions which were very well received.”

The challenges took place daily at the campus’s Public Safety Training Center except for one event which was held in the City of Lake Worth Beach, which partnered with PBSC to host the Invitational. In that event, the rapid intervention team (RIT) challenge, firefighters broke down doors, dragged weighted safety dummies through an obstacle course while blindfolded.

Firefighters from Burlington, Ontario.

For participants, the PBS Invitational is about more than grueling physical challenges. It is an opportunity to learn. After attending the inaugural PBS Invitational last year, Jarret Macdonald was determined to return—all the way from Burlington a city in Ontario, Canada. “We get a lot of knowledge out of this event that we bring back to our department,” he said. Macdonald and fellow Burlington firefighter and teammate Barrett Oosten competed in the vehicle extrication event, where firefighters rescued victims, portrayed by PBSC fire safety students and mannequins, from mangled vehicles using sophisticated hydraulic tools. “We have three major highways in Burlington, so vehicle extrication is a big part of our job,” Oosten said. “We are always looking for the latest techniques so we can improve.”

In addition to sharing best practices, firefighters had the chance to take part in several educational training events. Jack Swerdloff, a retired firefighter who currently works as a burn outreach and education coordinator at HCA Florida Kendall Hospital presented a class on the latest burn care guidelines. “Every deviation from burn best practices can create obstacles, jeopardizing successful patient outcomes,” he told firefighters. “Consistency in following established protocols is crucial for optimizing patient care and ensuring the best possible recovery.”

With members of the public attending, the Invitational was also a chance to highlight PBSC’s 143,000-square-foot Public Safety Training Center. “The average person in the community probably doesn’t realize how amazing the public safety training and the facility at PBSC is,” said Tina McGlynn, a business development manager with Core Construction, a company that builds public safety buildings and one of the Invitational’s TK sponsors. She speaks from experience: her husband is a fire chief with Palm Beach County and her son graduated from the Fire Safety Academy in May 2023. “It is on par with the Bureau of Fire Standards and Training in Ocala which is considered the best in the state.”

Recent PBSC Fire Academy graduate Nick Pica volunteers at the Firefighters Challenge.
Recent PBSC Fire Academy graduate Nick Pica volunteers at the Firefighters Challenge.

Recent PBSC Fire Safety graduate Nick Pica, who volunteered at the event, agreed. “When I was looking into becoming a firefighter, I asked everyone what’s the best place to train and they all told me PBSC,” he said. “The instructors are really experienced, and they are truly vested in the success of their students.”

And the winners are:

Vehicle Extrication Challenge:

  • The Transportation Emergency Rescue Committee  (TERC) sponsored the vehicle extrication competition April 30-May 2. TERC is a nonprofit organization that prepares firefighters and road rescuers for extrication challenges through training and competition. The winner of each division will go on to the national TERC rescue challenge.  Coral Gables came in first place, Palm Beach County was awarded second place followed by Tallahassee in third.
  • Elevated Safety sponsored the Technical Rescue Team (TRT) competition May 3rd in which teams showcased their technical rescue skills in rope rescue, confined space rescue and rope access scenarios. Elevated Safety provides the highest level of training in confined space and rope access, as well as rescue services across all industries.  West Palm Beach came in first place followed by Palm Beach County in second and Palm Beach Gardens in third.
  • Florida RIT Operations Group sponsored the Rapid Intervention Team (RIT) competition May 2nd-3rd in front of the Lake Worth Beach Casino Building. Also known as Rapid Intervention Crew (RIC), these teams/crews of firefighters are designated to be rapidly deployed to rescue lost or trapped firefighters. Florida RIT Operations Group is the nation’s only RIT competition organizer. This will be in the City of Lake Worth Beach in front of the Casino. First place winners were Largo followed by Palm Beach County team 1 in second and Miami-Dade team 1 in third.
  • Firefighter Challenge League Dubbed the “toughest two minutes in sports,” this event pitted elite firefighter against each other–and the clock–in a skills-based challenge course featuring high-rise pack carry, hose hoist, forcible entry, hose advance and victim rescue. The competitor with the best time within each division qualified for the national firefighter challenge.

Overall Winners: Mackenzie Briggs and Belinda Dotson

Division 1 Female Individual winners

  • First Place: Belinda Dotson
  • Second Place: Amy Tuminski
  • 3rd Place: Elizabeth Niedalski

 Division 1 Under Age 40 Male Individual Winners 

  • 1st Place: Brian Riebe
  • 2nd Place: Caden Wilson
  • 3rd Place: Jesse Gomez

40-49 Male Individual Winners

  • 1st Place: Mackenzie Briggs
  • 2nd Place: Aaron Piering
  • 3rd Place: Justin Baker

50-59 Male Individual Winners

  • 1st Place: Tommie Osborn
  • 2nd Place: Jeff Wright
  • 3rd Place: Mickey Tofexis

Division 2 Under Age 40 Male Individual Winners

  • 1st Place: Robert Gendreau
  • 2nd Place: Chris Carr
  • 3rd Place: Gerrit Blydenstein

Division 2 Under Age 40 Female Individual Winners

  • 1st Place: Whitney Briggs
  • 2nd Place: Siena Barkan
  • 3rd Place: Alanna Jones

Division 3 Under Age 40 Female Individual winners

  • 1st Place: Morgan Taylor
  • 2nd Place: Alyssa Mieszczenski
  • 3rd Place: Maria Fernandez

Division 3 Under Age 40 Male Individual Winners

  • 1st Place: Logan Suarez-Penrod
  • 2nd Place: Ryan Sune
  • 3rd Place: Kyle Kirkham

More results can be found at:

Click on the four images below to see photo albums of the PBSC Invitational.

















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