As we near the end of safety and health week in the fire service I have had a lot of time to reflect on my own personal health and safety. Recently in my organization we had an event where one of our firefighters fell into cardiac arrest and was successfully resuscitated and has made a recovery. He fell ill and collapsed while completing his annual performance evaluation which encompasses essential fireground skills. I know this served as a reminder to me of just how quickly my career could end if I fail to take care of myself. It could end if I don’t take personal responsibility for myself and the firefighters I serve as a company officer.
It is no surprise that members of our fire service are dying from heart attacks every year. There may be some contributing factors that are beyond our control such as genetics, underlying medical conditions, undiagnosed congenital defects and so on. So what is the excuse for the firefighters who completely fail to take care of themselves that don’t have any of this? What is the excuse for the firefighters who are completely apathetic towards the idea of maintaining a level of physical fitness? Why do they feel being completely and utterly out of shape is ok? I am not sure what their excuse is, but I can tell you it is unacceptable. We have a responsibility to ourselves and those around us to keep ourselves physical fit. I can tell you what happens when you don’t take care of yourself: you place yourself and those around you in jeopardy. We don’t work in a business of TPS reports. We are placed in hostile positions at times and we need to be able to perform both mentally and physically.
Regardless of whether or not your department requires you to do on duty physical fitness, or whether or not they have annual fitness tests, it shouldn't matter. We all need to take ownership and do the right thing for ourselves and our fellow firefighters. It shouldn't take a safety and health poster hanging in the stations to remind us that we need to train like we fight and better ourselves. The other piece of the message this week was safety. Safety is a byproduct of training and making smart tactical decision on the fireground. We make ourselves safe, not policies or fancy banners. We make ourselves safe by training for the fight in many different environments. If all you are doing is pulling hose through the station and crawling around searching in a bunkroom you walk through twenty times a day, you are not doing enough and in turn make yourself less safe. Build some muscle memory into the basics of fireground operations. Lieutenant Colonel Harry Tunnell was the Army officer who commanded the 1st Battalion, 508th infantry, 173rd Airborne Brigade in Iraq. He was noted as saying “Your unit will fight the way they have been trained, regardless of whether you want them to or not.” This is especially important for the company officers. You have to instill discipline and build habit into making smart tactical decision on the fireground, lest you be taught a harsh lesson.
Remember that we all have the obligation to train like we fight all of the time. This message this week should echo across every training exercise where we are preparing for battle on the fireground. Take care of yourself physically and do the best you can to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Keep a beginners attitude when it comes to mastering the basics and performing well on the fireground. By doing all of these things you will support the mission of your department, allow the team to count on you, and make yourself all-around more effective.