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Individual commitment to a group effort – that’s what makes a team work.

~Vince Lombardi


Firefighters are athletes.                                       

                                                                                                                                                                            Specifically, we are tactical athletes. With that privilege comes a certain set of obligations – both mental and physical, which are similar to those of competitive athletes.                

                                                                                            Photo Courtesy of Bridget Gandee

We can learn a lot about these obligations by looking at an athlete’s approach, how they handle their obligations, and as role models, the image they project:                                                                                                                                                                           


  • Athletes and firefighters alike must have the right attitude, personal accountability, high ethical standards, and the willingness to get the job done. As firefighters, we should develop these traits long before we ever pick up a hose or raise a ladder. They will put us on the right path to becoming a dependable and respected part of our department. Ignore them and we will lose respect and credibility, as we have seen countless times in both the sports world and in our profession.


  • Athletes are part of a team. They understand the importance of working together to get the job done. They take advantage of their own strengths, work on their weaknesses, and depend on teammates to do their own jobs so that the team functions as a well-oiled machine. Successful firefighters (like athletes) realize it’s not about the individual. We must work as a team not only to get the job done but to make sure it gets done safely. We depend on each other with our very lives.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          
  • Athletes are required to maintain their personal health and fitness. Why? They want to be the best at what they do. As tactical athletes, firefighters must take the same approach. We must understand that no amount of skill will overcome deficiencies in our physical or mental abilities to do the job. Functional fitness is about being the best version of ourselves and working to maintain that high level of performance, just as athletes do.


  • Athletes are committed to excellence. They constantly work to improve their skills and mental toughness. Whether or not they compete as a team, the best athletes have unparalleled self-motivation.  There are times when firefighters must depend on themselves to get the job done or to safely get out of bad situations.  As much as firefighting is a team sport, a personal commitment to excellence will reap exponential dividends for the team.


  • Paid or unpaid, athletes must have a professional mindset.  It is likely that most professional athletes were once uncompensated.  Many firefighters start out as volunteers and eventually secure a career position. Some remain volunteers their entire careers, and some do both. As a firefighter, whether you’re a volunteer or you get compensated for what you do, professionalism is key. Professionalism is not defined by monetary compensation; rather, it is driven by duty and responsibility. Professionalism is a character trait much more than it is a status. In sports and in firefighting, there are no entitlements and there is no room for mediocrity.

                                                                                                        Photo Courtesy of The First Twenty

Choose Your Path

In sports and in firefighting, there is no single path to success. As firefighters, we can learn from athletes in many ways. The personal attributes that yield athletic success will also lead us to success in our profession

It’s up to you which path you take.  Will you choose the path paved with service, teamwork, dedication, and respect?  If so, you will give back to the fire service in way that leaves a proud legacy for others to follow.


Dan Kerrigan is a 29-year fire service veteran and an assistant fire marshal/department health and fitness coordinator for the East Whiteland Township Department of Codes and Life Safety in Chester County, Pennsylvania, and the Director of The First Twenty’s Firefighter Functional Training Advisory Panel. Kerrigan is a graduate of the National Fire Academy’s Executive Fire Officer Program and holds a Master’s Degree in Executive Fire Service Leadership. He is a PA State Fire Academy Suppression Level Instructor as well as an adjunct professor at Anna Maria College, Neumann University, and Immaculata University. Connect with Kerrigan at, on LinkedIn, and follow him on Twitter @dankerrigan2. Follow The First Twenty on Twitter@thefirsttwenty.

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