As we all know, our job isn’t all about sitting around and reading novels, it can place us at an extraordinary cardiovascular level at a moments notice. Due to this fact, we must prepare our bodies and our minds to overcome this demand to allow us to perform at an elite level.
We have all seen the firefighters who are in excellent physical condition who struggle to perform well at fire incidents, and many wonder why. These firefighters train day in and day out to be able to increase their bench press, or lower their mile time, but rarely do they address the anaerobic demands that firefighting places on all of us. Couple that problem with the fact that we weigh a minimum of 50 pounds more than our normal weight once we don our PPE for a fire incident. Additionally, we must carry an appropriate tool for the situation we are responding to adding an additional load to our ensemble.
The idea for this piece came from a good friend of mine who is a Ladder officer with my department, he asked me do I train for being able to carry out my duties with 100 lbs of gear on me. I immediately thought his numbers were flawed, but he had proof one member of his crew with a water can and a six foot hook on a recent call weighed in 100 lbs heavier than he had approximately 15 minutes prior. After a brief discussion we came to the conclusion that firefighters haveno idea how much efficiency they lose once they put on their PPE.
We all carry screwdrivers, webbing, cutters, etc in our pockets and obviously they all have some sort of weight associated with them. Many of the workouts and articles on fire service physical fitness suggest using weight vest during the workout to add a “suck” factor but also to increase the load you are placing on your body. Using a weight vest is a very good technique for some training of the body, but in order to truly train yourself like you would act on a fire ground, you must utilize the normal PPE ensemble including an SCBA. Notice that I wrote normal PPE, not your combat challenge set, or some light weight workout PPE, you need your PPE with all of your tools and gadgets.
Wearing PPE during a workout will also change your flexibility, range of motion, and ability to position objects. Also, and somewhat more importantly, wearing full gear changes your center of gravity. Since we were my son’s age we have been able to manage to stay balanced while on our feet. The difference is you add some gear and some equipment, we revert to being unbalanced and prone to injuries. You must ensure you solidify a sound technique while in PT clothes prior to practicing in full turnout gear in order to prevent injuries. You need to educate yourself on the flexibility that you do or don’t lose in the gear your department issues. Some firefighters claim they lose no flexibility with their gear, but I know I lose some squat depth with the gear I am issued. My point is you must know your gear from experience not what some salesman says about it.
The last point I want to make comes from personal experience, gear takes energy and efficiency out of you because of the lack of heat dissipation. If you have participated in a stair climb or worked hard in gear you know exactly what I am talking about. The Total Heat Loss (THL) of gear is a measure of the loss of heat of the gear you wear, but performance is affected each time you don your gear. You must condition your body to the heat buildup and bulkiness of firefighter turnout gear. If you just go out for a jog each morning in PT clothes and think that your body will be prepared for firefighting, you are wrong. I am a marathon runner (Not a fast one but still a 26.2 guy) yet you put some gear on me and I get zapped because of the sweating and the heat. My cardiovascular condition does allow for some benefits, but it fails to prep my body for the torture of turnout gear.
As firefighters, it is time we realized that even a set of keys on a gear represent an additional weight we must carry and position. This weight may seem miniscule until we start adding it up with other items that we consider “must haves” in our gear. I am just as guilty as anyone else of not using my turnout gear in my workouts, but I plan to change that as I move forward. We all set goals, well set some new physical conditioning goals involving the use of your turnouts in one of your favorite workouts. Next time you decide on a workout, consider doing it in your gear to ensure you can master skills, technique, and repetition that will carry over to efficient and effective fire ground performance.