HAYWARD -- Hours spent running up and down stairs, lifting weights and working out paid off for six city firefighters, who placed second as a team and first in individual in a recent international endurance competition.

More than 600 from all over the world took part in the Firefighter Combat Challenge, which combines several tasks simulating skills demanded of firefighters on the job.

"They're super athletes," fellow firefighter Paul Wheeler said of Hayward's team. "It's pretty impressive; the challenge requires so much training."

At the competition, two firefighters run the side-by-side courses at a time, and the best three times from members of each team are compiled for that group's score. During the race, wearing full turnout gear, breathing apparatus and a helmet, firefighters have to run up a four-story tower carrying a 40-pound hose bundle. At the top, they put the hose in a box and then reach over the railing to haul up a 45-pound hose reel attached to a rope.

They race down the stairs and then move a 190-pound I-beam eight feet by pounding it with a sledgehammer, simulating a forced entry. They run a slalom through fire hydrants, pick up a hose and run it out for about 75 feet before shooting at a target. The final task is to pick up a 185-pound dummy and drag it back to the finish line.

"You're pretty much going as hard as you can with 50 pounds on your back for a minute and a half. It's pretty tough work," said Hayward firefighter Jeff Leonard, who won first place in the individual competition with a time of 1 minute 24 seconds, a personal best. "Afterward, you're really out of breath, and you have a hard time walking."

The competition in Las Vegas took place over several days and ended Oct. 27. The Hayward team came in two seconds behind one from Vancouver, British Columbia.

Hayward was the only Bay Area fire department with a team at the event, though several area firefighters competed as individuals.

This is the eighth year the Hayward team has been taking part in the challenges. The six team members pay their own way and go to the competitions on their own time.

"A few of us got together and thought it would be a fun way to train for the job. It gives us a little more incentive to work out hard," Leonard said. "It's fun to have a competition to train for."