More than 10,000 firefighters, police officers and other active members of public service agencies from around the world converged in northern Virginia recently for some friendly but serious competition in the 2015 World Police and Fire Games.
The athletes came from more than 60 countries, including Russia, Singapore and the United States, with the goal of linking a large and diverse global community.
“The community embrace the games, and always have,” said the games' director, Alan Richards. “We have been taken in very well. It is good for the county, the nation and all the participants.”
The nine-day competition, which ended Sunday, included 61 events. Like the athletes, they were an eclectic mix, ranging from America’s pastime, baseball, to games that involve the unique skill sets of officers, like the Police Cruiser competition and the Stair Race.
Overall, the medal count was similar to the one from the 2013 games, with the United States winning 1,777 total medals, 696 of which were gold. Canada came in second with 429 medals, followed by Russia (207), Spain (193) and Brazil (174). The United States and Canada had the largest number of competitors.
Many of the sporting events took place at college and high school facilities, town centers and outdoor parks in the greater Washington region. Reston, Virginia, was home to the athletes village, where the majority of the athletes and their families stayed during the games, and the site of the final event of the Games, the half-marathon.
The city of Fairfax projected total income from the games at $80 million.
“The community benefits because we have brought in around 25,000 people to Fairfax, Virginia," Richards added. "They will spend money, enjoy the sights around Washington, D.C., and will do the sightseeing. Very few people will come to the games and immediately leave after the games finish.”
'I Love Competing'
At 39, Norwegian firefighter Jay Baker was the oldest athlete in his age group in the Toughest Competitor Alive event. There, he placed 17th during an all-day competition that included a 5k run, a 100-meter sprint and swim, a rope climb, an obstacle course and additional tests of physical strength.
Baker also competed in the Stair Race competition against 18-year-old firefighters and placed fifth overall.
“I love competing, absolutely love competing,” he said. “And you can’t compete against any better guys than here. It’s good when I feel that I have beaten people that are younger than me.”
Edmonton Police Officer Andrew Larson placed 13th in the Toughest Competitor Alive event. He explained the dedication the athletes put forth in their training routines: “I started training for this about two years ago. There are so many events that you have to space it all out. The danger of it is getting injured. You’re going hard because you are competing against the best here.”
Unfortunately, the danger of the competition became all too real for the athletes when Brazilian Police Inspector Carlos Silva died from injuries suffered in a crash during the cycling competition. Two other cyclists, one Canadian and one American, were injured during the same crash, which occurred when a tire blowout caused a chain reaction going down a hill.
“Most guys, particularly in the fire and police services, are competitive,” Richards pointed out. “They like to compete and test themselves against others. It is very much a commitment that the athletes have to make.”
Camaraderie and Volunteering
Spectators and athletes alike came together in Fairfax not only to compete and sightsee but also to connect with others who are part of a unique global community.
“One Canadian firefighter, whom I met at the last games in Belfast, came specifically out and met me this year just to watch me do the Stair Race competition,” Baker said. “Already at these games I have met three or four people and have swapped details with them. That is the way it is — it is just like one big family.”
Larson expressed similar feelings about the camaraderie among the athletes.
“Everybody here is super friendly and has something in common,” he said. “You feel that there is definitely this brotherhood type of thing going on. So it is a lot of fun to come to these games and compete.”
Some 4,000 volunteers from the Washington area dedicated hundreds of hours of work to manage competitions and make sure all scheduled activities went smoothly.
For retired Fairfax County Firefighter Timothy Morrison, volunteering at the games offered a way to connect with both his family and community.
“My son is playing for the Fairfax Nationals baseball team,” he said. “And his cousin, my nephew, Danny Morrison, is playing third base, and he is a firefighter. These games are definitely a family affair. And just having the opportunity to meet people from all over the world — are you kidding me? It is an opportunity of a lifetime.”
Fairfax County Firefighter Theresa Ruffo said the games gave the local community an opportunity to grow.
“We are really grateful to have the games here,” she said. “It really is kind of like the Olympics, except it is in our own backyard. We get an opportunity to show up, support everybody, and see all the teams from around the world and other states that we normally wouldn’t be able to participate in.”
Ultimately, Richards hopes that the games bring a more humane public perspective to the men and women in uniform.
“Normally when you see a cop, when you’re being pulled over and given a ticket, something has gone wrong," he said. "When you see a firefighter, something has gone wrong. It is nice seeing them in a position where they are relaxed, they want to chat and communicate with you.”