Firefighting: It’s not for Everyone

I have smart friends. I mean REALLY smart. They say brilliant s*** like this:

“You can’t just be a doctor because you’re interested in medicine. You must go to medical school and qualify yourself. Therefore, why then, when we KNOW physical fitness is vital for tactical performance…why are we letting unfit individuals be our first responders just because they have a passion for the job?” –AnnMarie Chizewski, PhD

Now that is eloquent. I’ve said the same thing for years, but it goes more like this:

“I want to be a Victoria’s Secret runway model. But I don’t possess the assets for that job. So, it’s kinda not fair, but I still don’t get to be a runway model. I’m not qualified for it. Likewise, some individuals are also not qualified to be firefighters.” –Annette Zapp

It’s no secret (or maybe it is) that I came from academia. My first real adult job was RESEARCH so it shouldn’t come as a surprise to you that I use evidence-based practices in my life and in my coaching. I’m going to go with what RESEARCH tells us is best practice when the research is available. I’ll go with what practitioners say works (because sometimes the practice is ahead of the research) when research is lacking. And I’ll revert to old wives’ tales and voodoo only when absolutely necessary.

Friends: the research is clear, and the data is strong. Unfit firefighters are a risk to themselves, their community and their co-workers. Let’s pick it apart a little.

There is a substantial physiological load placed on firefighters due to many factors including weight of gear and equipment, inability to dissipate heat, stressful and hostile work environments and just the damn difficulty of the tasks we are required to complete.

Further, there is a positive correlation between optimal body composition, aerobic capacity, muscular power, muscular strength and muscular endurance AND ability to perform the job well and limit exposure to cardiovascular disease and musculoskeletal injury.

“Obese firefighters are 5.2 times more likely to suffer a musculoskeletal injury and 4.9 times more likely to miss work than normal weight firefighters.” (Cornell et al. ACSM 2017. Changes in Health and Fitness in Firefighter Recruits: an Observational Cohort Study)

Firefighter injuries and days of lost work due to illness cost the country billions of dollars annually. Billions.

Physically unfit firefighters perform job tasks 70-80% slower than physically fit firefighters and when life and death hangs in the balance, even 10% slower is too slow. (Dennison et al. J Strength Cond Res. 2012. The affect of fatigue and training status on firefighter performance).

Now tell me: when it’s your family’s lives that are at risk, do you want the firefighters

responding to your emergency to complete their tasks 70-80% slower?

Nearly 80% of our firefighting population is overweight or obese. We can’t be a physician just because we “want to”.

I want to be a Victoria’s Secret model too. But instead I do what I’m qualified to do. I am a firefighter.

Do better.