WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio --
He is a father, husband, Airman, athlete, and now, a world champion. Competing against 400 individuals from five different countries at the FireFit World Championships, Master Sgt. Sean Sullivan, assistant fire chief of operations, 445th Civil Engineer Squadron, was named world champion in the chief’s division.
The Frankfort, Kentucky, resident travelled to Oshawa, Ontario, Canada, in September to participate in his fifth FireFit competition, where he ranked 33rd overall. He is also a seasoned athlete in another series of similar competitions, known as the 3M Scott Firefighter Combat Challenge, or FCC for short.
Best described as an obstacle course, both FCC and FireFit are timed competitions which incorporate five and six events, respectively, on a closed course. There are numerous divisions, including individual and team events, both of which Sullivan competes in.
“The obstacles are based on activities performed by firefighters in emergency situations,” Sullivan explained. “Firefighting is an inherently dangerous and physical job by nature.”
To simulate real firefighting conditions, all competitors must wear serviceable real-world gear, including an oxygen tank and mask. The weight, heat and flexibility of the gear add another dimension to the challenge, he said.
“The FireFit course begins with climbing five flights of stairs with a 45 pounds hose pack on your shoulder,” Sullivan described. “Once at the top, you must place that pack in a box and hoist a 45 pounds hose roll up to the top of the tower and place it in the same box. Next you will run down the steps, touching every step for safety, and onto the force machine which simulates forcible entry work. Next, you will run through a series of cones to a charged hose and drag it to a target that you must spray with water and knock down. Finally, you finish by dragging a 175 pound, 6 feet tall victim simulator 100 feet backwards across the finish line.”
The competitions require cardio endurance, muscle strength, and refined technique. Sullivan completed his first challenge in 2007, and has since travelled to 18 states and two Canadian provinces for about 75 FireFit and FCC competitions.
“I instantly fell in love with the camaraderie of the competitors and the humbling aspect of the course. I thought I was in good shape, but my first race showed me I wasn’t,” Sullivan said.
Determined to excel, Sullivan uses a mixture of circuit training, assault bike workouts, a rowing machine, and CrossFit-style workouts to prepare his body. He said the competitions are a great motivator to train for overall fitness and better job performance.
“I review the videos, evaluating every race I run to find areas where I can make improvements,” he said.
The month following FireFit worlds in Ontario, Sullivan set new state records for Kentucky in three divisions during the FCC U.S. Nationals in Fort Pierce, Florida, with a course completion time of 1:35.43.
Sullivan retired as a captain from Frankfort Fire & EMS, following more than 20 years of service. He’s now a stay-at-home father to three and husband to Mary.
“I was overcome with joy and excitement once I crossed the finish line and saw that I won the chief’s championship. The pain from racing was instantly gone and I felt amazing,” Sullivan recalled. “I only wanted to grab my phone and tell my wife what I had been able to do.”
Sullivan is already training for his next competition, this one in Alabama, at the end of October for the FCC World Championships. One of his goals is to compete at FCC and FireFit events in Europe, or perhaps try a third challenge course, Toughest Firefighter Alive, also in Europe.
Between competitions and spending time with his family, he also serves in the 445th CES, providing fire protection for aircraft and assets at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.
“To me, being a Wingman means being part of a larger group or family. It means having the back of the Airman next to you, no matter the job title or rank,” Sullivan said. “It’s about working together to make the Air Force better. Training for competitions helps improve my fitness, muscle strength, flexibility, and stamina on the fire ground, all of which help prevent injuries while working and increase efficiency.”