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While signing books on Monday during FDIC, a large (pushing 375 lbs) firefighter approached me with his slightly slimmer, but still girthy entourage of three. I extend my hand in greeting, which was met with a chest puffing and the comment "I don't like the way you make fun of big people!" Being taken off my guard by his comment, I respectfully asked if he is a front line firefighter. He answered with a snarky "I'm a kick-a** go-gitter!" I then asked how long he could last on one 30 min SCBA bottle - he responds "30 minutes!" Annoyed by his demeanor and eager for a spirited fight, I tell him that he's lying to me. I continue that he is not only a risk for heart attack or stroke, but that he is putting his entire crew at risk because they may be called to rescue him from a hostile environment. He flips me a ‘fan gesture’ and says he knew I'd be a "d***". Ah, my fans!

I'm telling you this story because it opened my eyes to a problem that we don't hear much about in the fire service – obesity as an epidemic. I spent the remainder of my week at FDIC watching people and taking mental notes of how many ‘front-line’ firefighters would be considered obese - and the percentage was alarming (pushing 40%). What’s more, that percentage became higher as the week progressed. Many variables play into this, of course, and Lord knows most of us have pounds that we could shed, but this is a topic that needs to be discussed.

Heart disease, stroke, hypertension, diabetes, certain types of cancer, arthritis, sleep apnea, stress, lack of agility, back injuries… the list of injury and devastating health problems due to obesity is long! Isn’t this job hazardous enough without us adding to the problem with actions we can change? If you fall into this category, get up, get out, and start getting in shape! Begin a fitness and nutrition program, and stick with it – your body, mind, and soul will thank you!


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Comment by Elizabeth Hillman on May 30, 2012 at 8:59am

You have got to be in shape, sure you can know every sweet spot in a tool and can manouever each thing, but upper body weight is a heart attack risk. Trust me, I fight the battle EVERY day and do not get a break weight loss maintenance is a pain in the a$$ when you get older) so work smarter!. DO NOT let your guards down, not even for a second. You can eat more on a caveman style diet, and nature's candy is abundant in fruits. Lifestyle changes take oodles of time, but who the hell wants the quick and easy way?

Comment by A Clouser on May 23, 2012 at 4:25pm

some say it must start with the brass, some say with policy, some say within....i say everyone involved has a key investment in your crew's health & fitness regardless of senority or rank! we are each others keeper and must remain vigil in that pursuit! thanks for approaching that silent elephant Paul.

Comment by Jim Duffy on May 15, 2012 at 2:44pm

Paul I recently read an alarming statistic. Firefighters have a higher obesity rate than the general population.

Thanks for bring up this topic  It scares me every day when I think of standing in front of burning buildings with overweight firefighters and ones that smoke  I do not want to put on my class A's because of this. I make different strategic decisions based on who is on the job that day! We need to do better at taking care of ourselves.  ps We made the same observations while we were in INDY!

Comment by Paul Combs on May 14, 2012 at 7:55am

Thanks to all who added to the conversation! We obviously have a long way to go on this issue, but maybe this editorial got people talking - and hopefully starting to make a difference!

Comment by Michael T Rapcavage on May 11, 2012 at 9:47am
Very well said Paul.One hour a day of any physical activity can help.Eating healthy and not smoking can also help.Drink a lot of water and keep yourself hydrated especially in the summer. Thanks for sharing
Comment by Jason Marshall on May 10, 2012 at 12:49pm

Paul,  I couldnt agree with you more on this subject.  There are times that I am scared for myself and others I work with due to the fact the physical fitness that doesnt occur.  The station that I am currently assigned to about 3 months ago changed our eating habits and continued to workout and our weight/body fat % has dropped.  Myself a year ago was atleast 30% body fat (I was huge!).  One day I looked at myself and said I need to change something not only formyself but my crew I work with and my family!  Currently I am down around 30 lbs and down around 12% body fat.  Im currently looking to drop even more!  We will be printing this cartoon out and putting it in our workout room!  Keep them coming, cant wait till next months!

Comment by David D'Arcy on May 10, 2012 at 11:34am

Amen Paul. I'm tired of this topic being too taboo to talk about. Our fitness or lack there of in the fire service is directly related to the leading cause of injury and death. Still, by and large we ignore it. I am glad to see this topic gaining support and being talked about the right way by people like you.

If we wanted to properly train firefighters, we would require regular physical fitness and driving/highway safety training. Who knows, maybe one day we'll see a national program/standard that must be met for membership/employment and minimum annual fitness and wellness levels for the entire fire service.

Like Mrs. Cox in the previous comment, thanks for the great depiction of the TRUTH.

Comment by Paul Combs on May 10, 2012 at 10:32am

Whether career or volunteer!!

Comment by Michael Bricault (ret) on May 10, 2012 at 10:24am

-I have long said that firefighters should think of themselves as akin to professional athletes. If we understand the physical nature of the job, it only makes sense that we work out and train for the serious rigorous demands.

Comment by Paul Combs on May 10, 2012 at 7:30am

Here's a link to an excellent blog post by Chief Ed Hadfield. Good info for anyone wanting to start a fitness program.


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