Sulphur Springs native wins World's Strongest Firefighter title

Mar. 18—The hard, life-saving work that firefighters do everyday does not go unappreciated, but Rockwall residents can take a little extra pride in the fact that they have one of the world's strongest men working to keep them safe — Andrew Burton, who won the World's Strongest Firefighter title at the Arnold Sports Festival in Columbus, Ohio early this month.

"When I was standing on stage at the end, I was so overwhelmed that I couldn't concentrate on what any of the presenters were saying. All I could do was focus on enjoying the moment, hold back tears and listen for my name," Burton said. "Then, when I heard my name, I walked to Arnold, who presented me with my axe (trophy). It was just a dream come true to go there and win."

The "Arnold" of whom Burton speaks is, of course, former bodybuilder, movie star, and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, the namesake of the Arnold Sports Festival.

"We actually got to share in the moment quite a bit," Burton said of meeting Schwarzenegger. "He was very complementary and told me that I 'lifted the fire hydrants like they were 50 pounds.' He was also very courteous and actually engaged in a back-and-forth conversation with me. I appreciate him and his lending of his name to the event and to our cause."

As mentioned, the final events for the World's Strongest Firefighter competition involved firefighter-themed contests that included:

—A lateral axe hold, in which competitors had to hold a pair of axes (each with a 25 pound weight hung around the handle) straight out to either side and hold them up for as long as possible;

—A sandbag carry, in which they had to carry three sandbags (one weighing 220 pounds, another weighing 250 pounds, and finally one weighing 300 pounds) for 40 feet in as short a time as possible;

—A fire hydrant load, in which they had to lift and set four fire hydrants (one weighing 175 pounds, a second weighing 200 pounds, a third weighing 225 pounds, and a fourth weighing 250 pounds) onto a platform in as short a time as possible, and;

—An ambulance tire deadlift, in which they had to lift a bar with three ambulance tires on either end (weighing a total of 600 pounds) as many times as they could in 60 seconds.

Over the two-day competition, Burton rose to the top among 120 competitors from around the world, including its 18 finalists.

The path that led Burton, a Sulphur Springs native, to his recent victory began when he was a student athlete.

"I played football in middle school and high school and liked lifting the big weights, so I was in powerlifting too," Burton said. "Actually, I was hoping to get a college scholarship for powerlifting, but that didn't work out, so after high school I went to the fire academy and put my focus toward getting a job.

"Of course, as a firefighter, you're always working out and conditioning yourself, and I enjoyed watching strongman competitions on TV, where people lift large, odd objects," Burton said. "It appealed to me because I figured it applied to firefighting a lot more than doing the same three moves over and over like with powerlifting."

In addition to simply weight training because he enjoys "chasing the big numbers," Burton cites his career as a motivating factor in his strength training.

"Firefighting really doesn't feel like work to me, because I get to go on calls and I get to tear stuff up — buildings, cars, everything," he said. "Getting stronger and taking conditioning to a higher level helps me to be better at my job and to be better at helping people."

Although Burton has been competing in strongman competitions for about two years, he didn't become aware of the World's Strongest Firefighter competition until relatively recently.

"It was something that I found online by accident," Burton said. "When I saw it though, I thought it would be good to enter because I'd be competing against other people who are dealing with the same things that I am. As a firefighter, sometimes you miss training days, sometimes you miss out on meals, and these guys were all training and competing while having to deal with the same challenges that I go through.

"I was also drawn to it because of the spirit of camaraderie that firefighters everywhere share," he added.

Since his win, Burton has been touched by the amount of support he's received from the community.

"I'm grateful and I've been absolutely blown away by all the love and support that's been sent my way, especially from people in Rockwall and Sulphur Springs," Burton said. "I'm also glad to bring this title to Texas for the first time."

Not surprising with someone of Burton's drive and work ethic, he plans to continue competing in strongman contests and plans to enter other high-profile events like Giants Live.

When he's not working or working out, Burton enjoys archery, hiking, fishing and spending time with his wife and family.