Earlier today I was talking with an area battalion chief. We were discussing some views that had been stated by another chief officer about fire service fitness and leadership. To cut to the point, the view was “strong company officers get all of their firefighters to workout on shift”.
At first when hearing this it’s hard not to agree with that viewpoint, if you can influence your company to “buy in” to the idea. One of the driving forces in the fire service is that firefighters need a certain level of fitness to aid in preventing illness, injury, and death. Physical fitness promotion on and off duty has been one of the prevailing messages to achieve those goals.
But is physical fitness the real goal we are trying to achieve?
As a company officer I really don’t care if anyone works out on shift or can deadlift 500 lbs.; bench 350 lbs.; complete a marathon or finish the Fran workout in 5 minutes. Sure those are all very impressive physical accomplishments but does that make any of my brothers and sisters healthy? Maybe they still have some physical pain or mental health issue they are fighting.
Maybe they can pull off those amazing feats of strength but also have a crappy diet and are walking the fine line of a diabetic diagnosis. Or maybe they’re overweight and are just having trouble getting enough sleep. Perhaps their movement patterns make them look like a joint could explode at any given moment. With all of these questions and possibilities I would argue that focusing on fitness isn’t the goal. The goal should be total and complete wellness.
What does wellness look like? I recently attended a speaking event Annette was conducting and I think she has the perfect answer. “Wellness is the sum of health and fitness.” If you have the absence of disease and injury or the control of disease or injury you’re healthy. If you can meet established physical standards for the fire service then you have achieved the required fitness. In theory that should equal a happy, injury free, disease free, highly functioning member of the fire service, or someone that has achieved an acceptable level wellness.
“Is physical fitness the real goal we are trying to achieve?”
Is the viewpoint of the above chief officer wrong? I don’t necessarily know without
more context but what I can attest to is that we need to do a better job of outlining what the real metrics are. We need to realize that there is so much more that goes into a happy, health, highly functioning employee beyond fitness and working out.
As leaders and coaches, we need to take the time to communicate with our people and deliver the message. Get to know your co-workers or athletes and find out everything about them. That’s what is going to get them to buy in to the goals and message.
When we spend the time communicating and getting to know our people, we are creating trust. Once they realize you care they will start to hear you. At the end of the day we can educate and offer all the assistance we can but the person you’re trying to help must do the work.
Just stand by their side, listen, and don’t lose sight of the end goal of wellness.
Lt Andy Scott
Andy Scott is a 17 year fire service veteran currently holding the rank of Lieutenant for the Plainfield Fire Protection District. Scott has 10 years of experience in the fitness and nutrition field specializing in firefighter health and wellness, sports strength and and conditioning, and orthopedic exercise. He’s a member of the Illinois Firefighter Peer Support Team and instructor for the Firefighter Cancer Support Network.