They are the masters of disaster at fires and accident scenes, running toward fire when others flee, pulling victims out of dangerous situations in the blink of an eye.

But 12 Columbus firefighters may have met their match with a group of roller derby women known as the Terrorz of Tiny Towns.

The Terrorz — a 16-skater team made up of engineers, doctors, attorneys, educators and others from southern Indiana — are challenging the firefighters to a fundraising match Sunday.

It’s all to benefit the Columbus Firemen’s Cheer Fund, with proceeds going to help kids in need at Christmas.

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The firefighters sponsor a variety of activities to raise money for the fund each year — barbecues, benefit motorcycle rides, softball tournaments and more.

But never before have they attempted the no-holds-barred sport of roller derby.

And the firefighters have never roller-skated in front of a paying audience.

Team strategy

“The firefighters are up to the challenge,” Columbus firefighter Allen Smith said, who is leading the team on the rink. “Most of us haven’t been on skates in years, but we’ve got some surprises planned. It will be like ducks to water,” he said.He later confided that the team’s strategy is to stay upright on the skates through the entire match — and seriously, not to get hurt.Just in case, an ambulance will be on the scene during the event, Smith said.

Luckily, the firefighters won’t have to look far for medical help in the rough-and-tumble derby competition. Most of the competitors on the firefighters team are either EMTs or paramedics, Smith said.

The roller derby’s home turf is Skateland in Columbus, which is sponsoring the event by hosting the bout for free and covering the expenses to put on the match so all proceeds go to the kids.

They’re calling the event Skates and Ladders — and promoting it with a signature picture of a firefighter looking tough in fire helmet number 1, and a Terrorz team member with a helmet that proclaims “I’m Kind of a Big Deal, I’m into Roller Derby.”

For $5, you can watch these brave firefighters attempt to master balance and style on wheels while being shoved around by derby veterans such as “Dekapitator” (Tiffany Kapczynski) and “Grace Misplaced” (Julia Carson).

Friendly advice

The Terrorz team graciously agreed to give the firefighters some lessons in the weeks before the match at Skateland, rolling them through tips on how to fall, how to stop and how to score points in roller derby.While waiting to take the floor in one of the practice sessions, Smith mentioned that the firefighters were a little worried about just how much of their strength they could use while competing against the women.“We’re fighters, but we’re still gentlemen,” Smith said.

“My thought process is how hard can I hit them and not hurt them,” said Tim Perry, who has been a Columbus firefighter for 23 years.

He need not have worried.

“Try us,” said Carson with a smile. “We’re showing no mercy. None.”

The good-natured trash talk escalated as the firefighters donned mouth guards, and wrist and knee pads and helmets, and tried out the roller skates for the first time in practice.

Perry, who was supposed to be the firefighters’ secret skating weapon, immediately let the cat out of the bag by skating backward around the rink and waving and smiling at the Terrorz team.

He said he grew up on the Skateland floor and had a little fun showing some moves to his fellow firefighter team members in warmups.

But skating is one thing, and roller derby is another, as the firefighters were soon to discover.

At times, the firefighters’ attempts to learn skating techniques resembled a bit of their “stop, drop and roll” routine they teach to elementary kids.

Their first task was to learn how to fall, forward being preferred with knee pads taking the brunt of the impact. They were told to remember “knee, knee, wrist, wrist” when falling to avoid serious injury.

The firefighters mastered the skill fairly quickly, as staying upright for a lengthy period of time was a challenge.

When Smith was complimented on his falling technique, he replied, “That’s just because I can’t get back up.”

When Kapczynski told Smith the idea was to “fall small,” he replied, “Two hundred seventy eight pounds and she’s telling me to fall small.”

Learning the lingo

The firefighters then practiced bumping, which is supervised during an actual match by roller derby referees who have the option of placing a derby competitor in a penalty box if elbows are used.“Penalty box?” Perry yelled. “Nobody said anything about a penalty box.”Then it was on to actual roller derby techniques on the oval, with Dana Harrison, a Terrorz team member sidelined by injury, coaching the firefighters, and the Terrorz team members having a little fun with them.

The firefighters were taught who a “jammer” is — the skater who scores the points — and how to block, by using a “wall” of skaters.

Unfortunately, Perry had difficulty with the wall concept, preferring to pal up with the Terrorz skaters on their wall as they skated around the floor as though they were out on a Sunday drive. The Terrorz took it in stride and couldn’t help laughing at his antics.

Perry then further cracked up the Terrorz team by acting like he was hitting the horn and yelling “Beep, Beep, Beep, Beep” when he did attempt to go through their blocking wall.

By the end of the training session, Smith worried the firefighters might have a long way to go to become competitive.

“We’re getting knocked around by ladies,” he said, smiling. “We don’t want to lose badly.”

Firefighter Chris Owens, who competed in the 9/11 Stair Climb in Indianapolis, mused that he might have bitten off a bit more than he could chew.

While standing in his skates talking with Smith and Perry, he fell solidly to the rink floor, a surprised look on his face, but no serious injury except a little bruised pride.

“That was gravity,” he said. “This is way worse than ice. Gravity keeps messing with me.”

At the end of the practice, the firefighters were sweaty, yet encouraged, a little sore, but confident of improvement.

“I think this is going to be an epic event,” Smith said. “It will be comical if nothing else.”

If you go

What: Skates and Ladders, a roller derby match between the Terrorz of Tiny Towns and Columbus Fire Department

When: 6 p.m. Sunday

Where: Columbus Skateland, 2660 N. Talley Road

To benefit: Columbus Firemen’s Cheer Fund, which helps needy kids at Christmas

How much: $5 admission

How to come up with your roller derby name

An exciting part of the roller derby subculture is the chance to pick your alter-ego stage name.

Here are some tips for coming up with your own roller derby name:

  • Spinoffs of names of celebrities, politicians, song lyrics or cartoon characters are always a possibility.
  • Consider names that reflect your personality and skating style.
  • Make sure your grandmother would be OK with hearing the name announced by a roller derby emcee on a loudspeaker.
  • Puns and plays on words are popular choices.
  • Start with your own name or a version of your name and pair it with an adjective that describes your skating personality.

— From Rollerderbyresource.com

Skates vs. Ladders rosters

Terrorz of Tiny Towns roster

Anna Nihilator — Kerria Bodin

Dekapitator — Tiffany Kapcznski

Grace Misplaced — Julia Carson

Gunza Blazin — Caity Robertson

Harm and Hammer (alternate) — Hannah Joy

Jersey She Devil — Melissa Lemmerman

Kauzin’ Payne — Amber Payne

Liz Tripper — Elizabeth Daulton

Lo Lo Leveler — Loren Hurst

Morticia at-EMS — Erin Padgett

Moulin Bruise — Teralyn Sutton

Nuclaire Threat — Claire Higginbotham

Power Alley — Alison Wold

Spaz Attack — Beth Lemmerman

Tailwhip — Taletha Baum

Whomping Willow (alternate) — Sam Rice

Columbus Fire Department roster 

Ben “Big Slam” Spencer

Tim “Dancing Bear” Perry

“Magic” Mike Wilson

Chris “Happy Killmore” Owens

Jake “Bone Crusher” Tucker

“Crashin” Cory Hampton

“Fearless and Slick” Brandon Flick

Ben “Meercat” Noblitt

Marcus “The Spark” Gruner

Tom “The Atomidator” Barrett

Aaron “Bringing the Pain” Atherton

Allen “Mr. Don’t Think Me Nice” Smith

On the Web

Go online to learn more about the Columbus Firemen’s Cheer fund and its upcoming fundraising activities. Visit http://cheerfund.com/

Author photo
Julie McClure is assistant managing editor of The Republic. She can be reached at jmcclure@therepublic.com or (812) 379-5631.