WASHINGTON — Not all local firefighters, or all those who wear police or sheriff’s uniforms, will be able to compete in this summer’s World Police and Fire Games in Fairfax County.
The rules require that all competitors be “publicly employed as a full time Law Enforcement Officer or career Firefighter,” and that competitors’ “primary occupation” be Law Enforcement Officer or Firefighter. Volunteer firefighters, auxiliary police or reserve sheriffs are not allowed to compete.
While the rules have been in place for past editions of the games, Mark Bulla was planning to sign up this time because the games are local.
He has volunteered at the Burtonsville Volunteer Fire Department for nearly 35 years, and was “shocked” when he reached the registration page that described the eligibility rules.
“It’s keeping a class of people out for an unimportant reason,” he says.
Fairfax 2015 Director of Sports Tony Shobe says the California-based organizers of the games have always aimed to promote health and fitness among full-time public safety workers, and may also be concerned about the risk of “ringers” sneaking in if all volunteers were allowed. The California Police Athletic Federation did not respond to a request for comment.
Bulla said he believes there must be a better way.
“If you’re going to call it the World Police and Fire Games, you ought to invite anybody that’s associated with the police or fire department to participate,” Bulla says.
This is the 15th edition of the biennial games, which began back in 1985.
Shobe says it is not up to local organizers to make the rules, and that the eligibility requirements have made for some awkward situations.
“A lot of volunteers have had questions about it, because they feel that they should be included. I understand their feelings, [but] since the beginning, the rules are you have to be sworn,” Shobe says. “Even the Fairfax City Volunteer Fire Department, who is helping host one of the sports, the muster event, are not allowed to participate in the games.”
The Fairfax City department hosts a similar old-time firefighter event every year around July 4, and Shobe says explaining the situation was “difficult.”
Athletes who are eligible to compete, including retired police and firefighters, have at least a few more weeks to sign up. Registration for team sports and any others that require organizers to create brackets will close April 24; registration for some other sports is scheduled to close May 31, and registration for some sports that are more flexible, such as the half-marathon, will stay open until two days before the event actually happens. Teams that get the minimum number of required athletes registered on their rosters by April 24 will be able to add athletes beyond that date.
Fairfax 2015 organizers are still looking for volunteers to help make the games run smoothly. Everyone over 18 is able to apply to volunteer through the games’ website, whether they are connected to a public-safety agency or not.