Last week I wrote about the best way for firefighters to work out. In response I was asked to explain why, specifically, firefighters need to be proficient in all components of fitness (as I had stated). While fitness enthusiasts may balk at this question, firefighters who aren’t as excited to work out may benefit from this understanding (since they may be more motivated to exercise if they know it’ll improve their job performance.)
There are many scientific studies on this topic. In terms of overall fitness, several articles have illustrated that performance on the Candidate Physical Abilities Test and other firefighter physical agility tests is associated with scores on tests of muscular endurance (push-ups and other endurance tests), muscular strength (bench press and grip strength), aerobic capacity (VO2max test), and anaerobic performance (400-meter shuttle run). Although skill clearly plays a role in performance of job tasks, in these studies those who scored higher on the fitness tests took significantly less time to complete the firefighting tasks.
Many of you reading this have already passed the CPAT, or don’t have a need to pass it now, so here’s more to chew on in case that doesn’t do much for you. Heart attacks are more likely to occur during or after a physically strenuous call, therefore an unfit person is more likely to be overexerted during these events and suffer a cardiac event. Most on-duty heart attacks occur at fires. Since fire suppression requires moderate to high exertion over a long period of time, muscular and aerobic endurance are the most important components of fitness to possess in order to protect yourself against heart attack.
While overexertion of the cardiovascular system describes a heart attack, overexertion of the muscular system is to blame for the most common, most debilitating and most costly type of injury experienced by firefighters: back injuries. Most often, these occur during lifting tasks including lifting patients, hose and other gear. A great deal of muscular strength, meaning the maximum amount of force you can exert in one effort, is the most protective factor for avoiding back injuries.
There’s much more but I’ll keep it simple for today! In the comments below, let me know if you’ve noticed when your good/bad/improved fitness affects your job performance. And as always, send me your questions.
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A firefighter in my county (we are all volunteer firefighters) died of a heart attack a couple months ago on scene. I’ve been more motivated to work out since then. 😛 He wasn’t even that old, 50 or 60.
Becky, thank you so much for sharing. I am sad to hear about the death of a firefighter in your county. This is one of the reasons I have chosen to dedicate my research and work to help firefighters who are always taking care of others. I hope you continue to exercise and keep yourself physically prepared for the difficult job that firefighting can be.
Sorry! That wasn’t supposed to be a smiley face!
I have noticed a lot of heart related issues being reported recently and my concern was, with the Fire Service being as it is, could the “sudden exertion” factor be an issue…as in…your sleeping/sitting one minute and within a short period of time you are working and doing strenuous activity with no real warm up and maybe even dehydration. i drink a lot of water, even before bed, so hydration isnt a factor for me but, and here is my analogy, the going from 0 to 60 and trying to maintain at a 60 thing has always been in my head as a concern. i do tabata training and that has helped with maintaining strength after short periods of exertion but is there a possibility that we can train our bodies to be more prepared for the “go go go” we need to do to accomplish our job fast and without injury???
that may be the longest lead uo to a question ever…
Thank you so much for all your hard work..
Firefighter with PRFD
Hi Samantha, great question. Yes, the fact that many firefighter tasks involve intense bouts of exertion at unexpected times is a likely a major cause of heart attacks in this sector. Fortunately, you can definitely train your body to be better prepared to go from 0 to 60 by doing high intensity interval training. It sounds like you are doing something like that already with Tabata. By training this way, your body will make specific adaptations to hormones, enzymes and muscle fibers that will ultimately improve it’s physical response to sudden, high intensity calls.
Great. Thank you so much for your reply. Your dedication to the Fire Service is greatly appreciated.
Good day, just found an article that had your website. This is good stuff. We have had a fit test every year, which started out as a project and is now job dependent….
Besides this poor turn of events, we as a whole strive to keep some sort of physical ability, but could always be better. We are a small department as far as staffing goes. We cover an extremely large area. Our department is like everyone else presently under staffed and limited training.
Which leads me to a question…. How do we motivate those FF’s that are not motivated??? They do present issues for the others. We have to “carry” their lack of…ability, stamina and where they left off. I know that ALL will never be to a premier limit, but how do we promote overall fitness in a department that is logistically spread out overa huge coverage area and funds area limited to properly and fully train said FF’s???
Thanks for your direction. Just striving to have a department of a higher percentage of healthiness.
Hi Steven, this is a tough issue. Motivating anyone who is not motivated themselves to be healthier is pretty difficult. However, in the fire service you have a few tools that other work environments do not benefit from, which are: leading by example (especially the leader of the crew), camaraderie (work out together) and competition (make it fun!).
Steve and Karlie, you and the rest of Karlie’s readers should take a look at a piece from my blog, Talking “Shop” 4 Fire and EMS, to gets some ideas on how we can change fire service culture (e.g., attitudes toward fitness and training). And it’s not what you think. http://www.fireemsleaderpro.org/2014/07/31/changing-fire-service-culture/
Judging from the pictures on Facebook from the IAFF ATLS Symposium, firefighters are largely still paying lip service to health and fitness. The facts have been out there for years for all to see, and yet, it seems like progress is at a snail’s pace.
Fitness is the key to performance in the fire service, Many organizations recognize and encourage appropriate fitness for the role a firefighter is involved with. Such as the pack test conducted annually for Federal fire personnel. As far as motivation the organizations should lead the way by assigning fitness to promotion, assignment, and other metrics. A military example of this concept is demonstrated by the USMC.
At the large urban department I work for (30 + years) we are fully encouraged and supported by management to maintain fitness. Each member commits thier own level of self motivated fitness. As an organization, we can improve but I am sure the majority of our members, with a few exceptions, are adequately fit for the position.
My personal goal is to serve out my career and live in retirement at least one year for each year served, Lord willing, Fitness and nutrition are the keys to achieving this goal.