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The Cold Water Challenge…What is it Exactly? Is it Making a Difference?

Above is one of the better Cold Water Challenge Videos I have seen!

What is the Cold Water Challenge? Where did the Cold Water Challenge originate? How long has it been going on? You might have asked yourself this question if you have spent any time on Facebook recently. You might also wonder if it is making a difference. I assure you it is. One of the main charities that is being used is the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation. They have witnessed an influx in $10-$100 donations in the past weeks. Scroll down with a message from the NFFF.

I first saw it a couple of months ago. I watched as it continued to grow in the fire service. While I thought that it was pretty popular at the time, I was wrong. It is everywhere now.

I was curious of where it began. I am not sure I am any closer to finding out where it began though.

What is the Cold Water Challenge? As best as I can find, the challenge moving through the fire service is this:

  1. You are nominated to complete the challenge by someone who has done just that.
  2. You have 24 hours to complete the challenge AND donate $10 or $20 to the charity of choice as defined by the person nominating you.
  3. If you are unable to complete the challenge, you donate $50 or $100 to the charity they defined.
  4. The amount of the donations varies. The most common is $10 if you complete it, $100 if you do not. 
  5. If you complete the challenge, upload the video of you completing it to Facebook or Youtube and nominating 5 more individuals to Facebook.

So you can see, the number of people participating multiplies quickly and exponentially.

As best as I can find, the challenge is a unsanctioned spin-off of the polar plunge most widely used by the Special Olympics as a fundraiser.

There have been many local Cold Water Challenges that have benefited a local group or beneficiary by local organizations.

In the fire service, most firefighters have either dove into a body of water, had a trashcan full of water dumped on them, jumped into a drop tank, or gotten soaked by a stream of water from fire hose.

I was nominated by Josh Waldo and Kestin Wiemer within 24 hours. I was unable to complete my challenge so I donated $100 to the Wounded Warrior Project as one of them had requested. Without the challenge, I never would have donated to the WWP simply because I support other organizations. I appreciate the chance to donate to the WWP and I am sure they are thankful for my donation.

Among firefighters, the most popular organization to donate to has been the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation. You can make your donations to the NFFF here.

It seems as though the purpose of the challenge has been lost by some. Whether you complete the challenge or not, you still have to donate to the organization of choice by the person who nominated you. If you complete it, the amount of donation is less than if you cannot complete it.

I have not heard of any firefighters getting injured doing the cold water challenge, but there have been some reported by others. Please be safe in completing the challenge. Do not jump into water that you do not know the depth. Never dive into water you cannot see through.

The National Fallen Firefighters Association released this message today:

To the cold and wet (or warm and dry) the NFFF says Thanks!

The 24-Hour Cold Water Challenge has captured the creative minds and generous hearts of many firefighters, survivors and NFFF supporters. To those who are taking the plunge – literally or figuratively – and picking the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation as your charity, we thank you.

In the past week alone, we have received nearly 250 donations in amounts of $10 or $100, and more are coming in every day. Your donation will directly help the survivors of fallen firefighters.

As you know, safety is one of the key missions of the Foundation. We urge you to keep that in mind if you accept a challenge.

You can fulfill your challenge obligation by going to and be sure to click on the Cold Water Challenge box. You can then show others that you’ve fulfilled your promise from your confirmation screen by sharing on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and email. You can also send a check to National Fallen Firefighters Foundation, P.O. Drawer 498, Emmitsburg, MD 21727 and earmarking it as Cold Water Challenge.

Best of luck to all of those who are being “called-out” by a friend or colleague. If you post a video on social media, feel free to tag the Foundation. And please, be safe.

The video below shows a challenge and donations to the NFFF. They even up the ante a bit.

My donation to the WWP

My donation to the WWP

Comments - Add Yours

  • John C Sell Jr

    One big problem! There are kids who are now doing the “cold water challenge” who are not doing it with any charity idea attached and some of them are doing it in rivers that are experiencing high water due to snow melt! Also had a few doing it in mountain lakes where the water is barely above freezing. Sounds like more dangerous work for firefighters who have to rescue these kids.

    • Jeremy Cowan

      Why do folks always have to find the “BAD” in everything?

      Good grief.

      • John C Sell Jr

        Hey, no problem. Keep your head in the sand. EVERYTHING is just fine! There is no potential problem for anything, no unintended consequences for anything. Rainbows and unicorns for all! Nothing like kids floating down the cold river because something has been taken out of context and no body is saying a lot about why it is bad.

        • Lmo

          There is a potential problem for almost everything… Do you keep YOUR head in the sand? The parents of those kids need to teach them the dangers of getting in ice cold rivers. Most parents DO teach their kids that. Maybe the government should set you up a nice padded room and slide you a tray of food through a hole. Life is dangerous. Learn to deal or gtfo.

          • Don Maxwell

            So let me get this straight…Are you going to be the one who goes to the families of the people who drowned and tell them…well I guess your loved one wasn’t tough enough, so sorry?

          • Horace Goldenschwantz

            I volunteer to do that if you need someone, but I fear my survival of the fittest speech won’t be well received.

    • Cold Cucumber

      Anything good can be turned to bad. In Michigan we call what these kids are doing the Polar Bear Club! Too cold for me!

  • out2hunt

    Check out The Plunge for Landon FB page. It was the first I heard of it. Young boy with cancer. Local HS started it as a fund raiser for medical and transportation cost for the family.

  • Emily Earp

    The Cold Water Challenge is definitely making a difference. My father in law is the EMS director in Alexander County, NC and has been hospitalized at Baptist Hospital due to complications from Crohn’s Disease. Our community has raised over $1000 for him in less than 48 hours. People are powerful when they band together!

    • Courtney Rowe

      Wow. A lot of my family members live in Alexander County. It is so rural that it isn’t common to hear about someone else from that part of NC. Small world. I hope your father in law recovers quickly.

  • Don Maxwell

    People are dying doing this!! 6 in the last year. We as firefighters should not be condoning this reckless behavior int he name of charity!!

    • Jim Douglas

      Can you please provide some credible proof of this?

    • Jennifer Mobley

      We run into burning structures, we can handle cold water.. Why are there always people tryin to put a stop to a wonderful, fun thing that supports others in need!

    • ncjettech

      People die doing a charity marathon… Where’s your outrage to end running?

    • Don Maxwell

      You people are missing the point completely! These deaths are preventable! Isn’t THAT what we do is prevent deaths!
      Cold water drowning is instantaneous, we enter burning structures with water and an eye on safety. It is calculated. Coldwater shock and drowning is prevented by not doing it in the first place. The body has mechanisms to shut down with a cold water shock. Some of them are NOT reversible!
      If you want to support those in need…there are many other activities to do so without killing or severly injuring people!

      • Matt Larlham

        It’s called the mammalian dive reflex. And it’s a mechanism that protects us actually. I have not heard of one report of any injurys much less deaths I regards to this.

        • Matt Larlham

          Don’t make things up about cold water drowning in a room full of professional firefighter/Paramedics

      • Don Maxwell

        Actually people HAVE died. I posted two articles on the subject earlier in the thread. I am a firefighter paramedic and water rescue technician with 30 years of experience. I am not making anything up!
        Do the research. It’s very dangerous. Great causes, I’m sure but people need not die in the name of charity.

        • Derbob17

          Maybe with each video the firefighters make during there cold water challenge they should talk about and list the dangers if completely the challenge in an unsafe manner and condemn complete ong in a freezing river or lake. Ot otherwise we will all have to start doing the cold water challenge to raise money for a charity that is for victims of the cold water challenge, it’ll end up defeating it’s purpose if it hasn’t already. Safety first and foremost.

      • Jeff

        I know people doing this and my wife has been challenged but they are not diving into cold water they are having buckets of ice water dumped on them. You certainly cannot die from that

  • first amendment

    The Polar Plunge started in the midwest this spring, around March. Benefits for a young baby in Missouri with cancer. Many FDs in Iowa and Missouri participated in many creative plunges.

    • ncjettech

      ummmmm… Polar Plunge(s) have been happening for the past 3 decades.

      • out2hunt

        Yes, Polar Plunges have been. But this is a little different. Polar Plunges are organized events where many people and groups get together and raise funds and plunge all the same time. The Plunge for Landon started as people challenged others to take the plunge and donate if they do. If they don’t take the challenge they are asked to just donate a larger sum of money. It started to help a young boy with cancer in Tarkio Mo.

  • Kent Newcomb

    What you are calling the cold water challenge started as “The Plunge for Landon.”

  • Lauren 31

    I applaud the effort of people to band together for a common good. As a college athlete, I take the “cold water challenge” almost every week in the form of an ice bath. These acts are not dangerous, if anything the participants will only benefit from the relief that cold water provides to sore and achy muscles. Overall, my point is that I wish people would stop trying to end such an amazing charity push because they say it’s “unsafe.”

    • Don Maxwell

      Pretty sure your ice baths are not deep enough to drown you! AND you get in an ice bath slowly. Pretty sure you don’t jump in over your head.
      There are so many other fund raising opportunities out there!

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  • a liger555

    i dont think we should take it that far as the first video… seeing a mans penis is the last thing i want to see. Especially for a great cause like this.

  • Cops Court and Coffee

    How can the Police participate?

    • Rhett Fleitz

      Just start. Use the rules above, pick a charity, and call some people out. It will take off from there.

  • Todd

    This is most defiantly a terrible idea for kids to be doing , specially stupid kids
    Our daughter who is an athlete jumped into a creek for this challenge and today. Is having surgery to repair a seriously broken ankle , there goes at least 6 months of sports if not longer
    Her teams are all disappointed for. She was probably the best player , now her summer is shot , good athlete but obviously not to smart .
    So any one who is stupid enough to do this . Just stick to the tub or swimming pool
    You don’t have to be a moron to donate to a good cause

    • Youstupidass

      You just called your daughter stupid and a moron. What kinda father are you? Monster.

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  • Volunteer’sMom

    I cannot believe so many people would try to call an attempt to raise money for charitable causes dangerous simply because so many people are too stupid to consider using a little common sense in the process. HERE is the problem with children in the first place….their parents don’t teach common sense and wait around for somebody else to save their butts when they get in trouble! Geez, people!! GET A FREAKIN’ GRIP!!!
    My 15 year-old junior volunteer fireman son could hardly stand it until somebody called him out. $10 to Ronald McDonald House…totally his choice. I’m proud of my son. Not only for following through with his cold water challenge but, for his ability to make wise sound decisions looking at the big picture and not just what’s right in front of his face.

  • Breezy

    Can you be called out more then once and do you have to be fire personal

  • Randie Raige

    Question, I have been called out by 2 different people, one in California the other in Texas. Does this mean I have to do the challenge twice? Or complete the the 1st call out and I’m in the clear? Please help! Lol thanks!

    • lele marie

      Idk I was looking for the same answer u were

  • big John osw

    Old school ways c.c. And many others have started all over the nation keep it going

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  • Kennycub

    question .. do you have to do a plunge in a kiddy pool or tub …. or dose just having it dumped on you still count..?

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  • majdr

    The cold water challenge started in rural southwest Alabama from a preacher named Chris Sowell. He started it just to get some people to “man up”, then it turned into a fund raiser. It has went viral since it started the beginning of this year.

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  • eNaRDe

    Just do your research on which charity you choose cause the majority of charities pocket the money.

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  • masters

    I don’t get it, why can’t people just donate money?

    • asta

      why would you donate money right away when you can waste water in the process?

    • Lily

      It’s a fun way to raise awareness while reminding people to donate. You can quietly donate and move on with your life but this “challenge” is like telling others, “Hey, you should donate too because we are lucky enough to do this kind of thing. Others aren’t so let’s help them.”

  • Monicaa

    The ice water challenge is making a difference, I first saw it in Facebook as my dad was doing it through his bike organisation bikers against child abuse the same rules apply but if you did not complete the challenge in 24hours you donated $100 to your local baca chapter. Which helps raise money for kids that have been abused.

  • random

    I believe the cold water challenge originated with some challenging a Oak Ridge Fire Dept member. Of Oak Ridge, TN. My husband is a firefighter there. We both safely completed our challenges.

  • ayeshhh

    it originated in New Zealand over 4 months ago

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  • jay

    This is pretty retarted … If i wanted to donate too charity in the first place … I would do soo with out having a shit load of ice cold water dumped on me.

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