Hey Chief! Hey Training and Safety officer! Yes, I’m speaking to you two. What is one of your big concerns this year, last year and every year of your career? If you don’t answer “worker injuries, duty disabilities and worker’s compensation claims” you would be an extreme minority.
Personal protective equipment has improved by leaps and bounds yet our firefighters are still getting hurt (or worse, disabled) at an ever-increasing rate. But why?
There are many possible explanations for this increase in injury rate but let me address the giant polka-dot elephant in the room: our firefighters are not physically prepared to take on the rigorous demands of firefighting tasks.
Here’s the bottom-line up front:
“Firefighting is a dangerous occupation; amongst the most arduous occupations that humans can undertake”. (Smith. ACSM Volume 10, Number 3, May 2011)
“Essentially, there is a mismatch between the fitness and health requirements of strenuous firefighting and the current fitness profile of the US Fire Service.” (Smith. ACSM 10. Number 3, May 2011)
“Some firefighters fail to maintain appropriate levels of conditioning for peak job performance.” (Michaelides et al. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 25(4)956-965.)
“Annually, firefighters incur ~80,000 injuries, which costs billions of dollars in treatment and lost time from employment.” (Abel. Strength and Conditioning Journal. Volume 37. Number 4, August 2015)
“But we adopted the AFFI/Chiefs WFI and sent 5 people to Peer Fitness Trainer class. AND I spent ‘fill-in-the-blank-amount” on equipment to outfit my fire stations. What more do you want from us?”
I imagine at some point you also sent your secretary to firefighter class where she spent a week learning about the job, cutting up cars and crawling around the burn tower. But would you then expect her to come back next week and not only be a fully functioning firefighter, but also TEACH others how to be a firefighter? It’s the same scenario with Peer Fitness Trainers.
The fully-qualified 40-hour firefighting secretary idea is absolutely ludicrous, yet that’s what is expected when our firefighters go to the Peer Fitness trainer class. 40 hours of training somehow magically bestows upon them the ability to assess, program, trouble shoot, motivate, make nutritional recommendations and above all prevent firefighter injury.
"I imagine at some point you also sent your secretary to firefighter class where she spent a week learning about the job, cutting up cars and crawling around the burn tower. But would you then expect her to come back next week and not only be a fully functioning fire fighter, but also TEACH others how to be a firefighter? IT’s the same scenario with Peer Fitness Trainers". -Annette Zapp
I’ve told you about my background before in this article.
That background is what enables me to bring a unique perspective to firefighter fitness and wellness. And I have the skill-set to not only meet them where they are, but to bring their health and wellness level up.
Statistically speaking, over 70% of firefighters are overweight or obese (Fahy RF, LeBlanc PR, Molis JL. Firefighter fatalities in the United States — 2005. National Fire Protection Association. Fire Analysis and Research Division; 2006.) This is higher than the national civilian average. Firefighters are injured at astounding rates with knee, shoulder and back being the most common injuries sustained.
The idea of a police chief instituting a SWAT team by simply telling his staff to “figure it out” is the equivalent of telling our FFs to just figure out fitness. For some, it’s not anywhere near their wheelhouse and it’s a very rare full-time firefighter that possesses the unique skill set to evaluate, program, trouble-shoot, motivate and coach other firefighters.
If I were the chief, here’s what I’d do: Hire a qualified department coach and expect to pay them well. A coach will help your staff set realistic goals, screen for pre-existing challenges, set up a reasonable program for them and assist in holding them accountable. When shopping for a coach, look for a NSCA certified strength and conditioning specialist or a TSAC-F as opposed to a general personal trainer. CSCSs specialize in designing programs for athletes and a firefighter is an athlete. TSAC-Fs specialize in tactical athletes which include police, EMS, military and firefighters. According to Marc Verstegen of EXOS “Firefighters exemplify the essence of what we consider an ‘”athlete”. Their professional requirements necessitate the highest level of sustainable physical and mental performance in the most demanding situations, putting their life on the line every day to help others. The mission is far greater than winning a game, or how fast they run.”
Remember that your favorite professional team has a plethora of specialized coaches to make sure their athletes are in prime condition to take the field each game. They have position coaches, general strength and conditioning coaches, a head coach, a nutritionist, an athletic trainer, a physical therapist and a team doctor at the very least. Their “ready to take the field” programs are created by professionals who specialize in getting them in top playing condition. Who’s getting your firefighters ready to take the field?
“Firefighters exemplify the essence of what we consider an ‘”athlete”. Their professional requirements necessitate the highest level of sustainable physical and mental performance in the most demanding situations, putting their life on the line every day to help others. The mission is far greater than winning a game, or how fast they run.” -Marc Verstegen
We are asking too much that our firefighters figure out health and fitness for themselves. We owe it to them to provide expert guidance for them. Put your financial resources into hiring a COACH to guide them. You will be absolutely astonished at the difference this makes.