Above: Eithne with some of the other Irish athletes.
Among the thousands of competitors at the 2017 World Police & Fire Games was Dublin Fire Brigade’s Eithne Scully.
The World Police and Fire Games (WPFG) is basically the Olympics for emergency services personnel, attracting around 10,000 entrants every two years. Organised by the California-based World Police & Fire Games Federation, athletes participate in a wide variety of events ranging from badminton and baseball to soccer and stair races. The WPFG began life back in the swinging sixties when a police officer in San Diego developed an idea to promote physical fitness and well-being among law enforcement officers. The California Police Olympics were first held in 1967, and their success in the proceeding years led to the foundation of the WPFG during the 1980s, open to serving and retired firefighters, police officers, customs and excise personnel, and prison officers. The Games have run every two years since San Jose in 1985, hosted in cities around the world including Belfast in 2013. On a global scale, the Games attract the second largest cohort of athletes after the Summer Olympics – no mean feat.
Though Dublin Fire Brigade generally has a strong contingent at each Games, last year advanced paramedic Eithne Scully from D watch Dolphin’s Barn was the sole representative in Los Angeles. Eithne has competed in five Games so far having first attended Quebec in 2005 with 20 colleagues – she was instantly hooked. Travelling to LA on her own was by no means a deterrent.
“Because I’ve been at five Games now I have friends that I meet up with over there. When you get to the track you meet the same group of people, the Americans, the Germans, the Brazilians – there’s a whole gang there that you recognise,” she tells me. “The atmosphere is fantastic. Despite being there on my own from DFB, everybody is just really encouraging, clapping and encouraging everybody else. Everybody has got a common background.”
After the opening ceremony on August 7th in the Coliseum the Games kicked off, with athletes from across the globe going head-to-head in 56 events. Eithne competed in the 10k cross-country (individual and team), 800m, 1500m, 5000m and 10000m races, alongside the 4 x 100m and 4 x 400m relays – she discovered several years ago that relay teams can be entered into on a pool basis, and so the same team of Eithne and female colleagues from London Metropolitan Police, Trinidad & Tobago Fire Service and Puerto Rico Fire Service have competed together ever since. Eithne also tackled the taxing stair race (individual, women’s team and the mixed team) held in the AON Centre in downtown LA, one of the Games’ tougher events.
“It has 64 floors with 1,377 steps – give or take a few. I can’t say I was counting!” says Eithne. “There are two sections in the stair race – you can choose to do it in firefighting gear or without. I chose to do it without as you have to take your own gear and the BA sets are provided at the venue. I met two of our colleagues from Dublin Airport Fire Service who competed in full gear and had fantastic times. The tallest building I had completed a stair race in prior to this was 30 floors so I did not relish the thoughts of 64. However, as it turned out, it was my best performance to-date.”
Despite attending on her own, Eithne took home a medal haul worthy of a larger DFB contingent. Gold medals were awarded for the 10k crosscountry, 4 x 100m relay, 4 x 400m relay, the women’s team stair race and the mixed team stair race. She also earned a silver medal for yet another climb of the AON Centre in the individual race, and a bronze medal in the 800m.
“I was delighted!” she says with a laugh. “I was glad that it did work out well because I thought that it might be quite embarrassing to come home with nothing! Usually the swimmers attend and they’re fantastic, so they always come home with rakes of medals. I was glad that I was able to represent the fire brigade well and come away with something.”
THE SOCIAL SIDE
Despite a busy timetable with five days of events, Eithne had plenty of time to explore her surroundings, something she tries to do at every Games. A trip to the famous Santa Monica beach with a colleague from New York City Fire Department (FDNY) was an enjoyable break between races, while a friend from the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) brought them on a tour of one of the city’s training centres as well as a trip through Beverly Hills. “That’s the plus of being at a few Games – you get to know people,” says Eithne. “There were other people that we would meet up with for dinner – 8 or 10 of us would meet up in downtown LA every couple of nights for dinner and have a night out. It’s [a] social [event] as well.”
The date has already been set for the next Games in Chengdu, China in August 2019. Eithne is looking forward to the date, having decided several years ago that she would continue competing in the Games as long as she is healthy and able. With support from the Sports & Social Club in securing her entry fee, and no signs of slowing down, it looks like there will be at least one person representing DFB on the world stage, though hopefully numbers will grow over the years.
“I wish to thank you for all your support – it is fantastic to receive such encouragement when you are over there,” Eithne says. “I also wish to encourage anyone who is thinking of participating to go for it and start saving now. China in 2019 may be out of reach for a lot of people but Rotterdam will be hosting the Games in 2021, and it would be great to have a DFB team travel and participate.”