A short while back, I posted a blog called The Undeniable Truth that challenged fire departments to be courageous in establishing formal health and wellness programs. I've said for a long time that although the importance of fireground operational safety cannot be overstated, our biggest obstacle in truly reducing LODDs remains the overall lack of attention to our own personal health and fitness. I realize there is no simple answer to this problem, but avoiding it certainly will not change anything.
I am deeply committed to advocating for real, tangible change in our attitudes and actions as they related to firefighter health and wellness. As part of this advocacy, I want you to share your own stories of encouragement and success with me so that you truly become part of the solution -- to show readers that no matter the challenges and with the right attitude and focus, they can be overcome. Since I posted my last blog, I have received several emails from fire service professionals; some that have asked for ideas and suggestions, others that have shared these fitness or health program successes I believe we all need to see. So, as promised, I will begin sharing them with you, starting with these two from a couple brothers in Canada:
I took over the Chiefs job last January. We are a small volunteer fire brigade but one of the initiatives was to pay for gym memberships for active members of the brigade. I get a report card every month that tells me of the activity of the members that have joined the gym. They must maintain a certain level of attendance in order to keep their gym membership. As much as I want too I can't make it mandatory but as an incentive every year I post the chiefs challenge. I ask members to write down a fitness goal, put it in an envelope and stick it in my mailbox. This year 2 members tied for it. One young guy has been training for the firefighter combat challenge and the other one quit smoking and lost some weight, both admirable goals. They got a hoodie with "Cobequid Fire Brigade Gym Rats" on it, the rest of my "Gym Rats" got tees. The upside is I know have to work out and practice what I preach.
Chief, Cobequid District Fire Brigade
Truno, NS, Canada
I'd be happy to share the success of our program in hopes it may benefit others.
I work for City of Kitchener Ontario Canada, Population of approx 234,000 protected by 7 stations (firehouses) and 224 IAFF 457 members (184 suppression 3 mechanical, 3 training, 12 communications (Dispatching) and 19 Fire prevention and public education and 3 Alarm technicians)
Supresion works on a 24 hr shift, with a four platoon (one on / two off - one on / four off) rotation.
Like all fire services around the world we have had our share of LODDs (14). Cancer being our number one killer (13), we looked for ways to fight back and extend the retirement years of our members. In our province we have presumtive legislation for a list of cancers, presently 17, with more being added in the next two years. Although this is a victory and I do not take it for granted, it doesn't replace our loved ones. Our Ontario Municipal Employee Retirement System (our pension) calcualtes the average age of a firefighter life expectancy at 64. We have mandatory retirement from suppression duties at 60. So as you can see even with Presumptive Legislation something needed to change.
The Proactive Cancer Prevention Program was created to approach the problem from the areas and influences that we could control. Understanding how inflamation, toxins, dehydration, sleep deprivation lack of nutrition or poor nutrition habits stress the body seemed like a logical start. Our short term success was outstanding many of our members lost weight, started working out and changed eating habits. The overall momentum is maintaining and we are still moving forward. Firehouse cooking has changed, kitchen cupboards are filled with healthier choices and water is the drink of choice over sodas and other sugar drinks. Long term affect will be awhile before we can measure that, but I'm hopeful that a lifestyle change combined with good fireground tactics and decontamination post fire (we have a detox unit by Sauna Ray) will help our members enjoy a long retirement.
All the best,
City of Kitchener
Thanks to Todd and Rob for sharing their stories! If you have a success story to share, either personal or departmental, or you would like to discuss the obstacles you are facing with regard to improving health and wellness in your department, please do not hesitate to reach out to me. I will do whatever I can to help or to direct you to someone else that can.
In fact, let's get started now.
As fire service professionals, we are tactical athletes that perform time-critical actions to save lives and property. My friends at The First Twenty are donating 20 free memberships to their program in support of the idea that we can build a healthier fire service on a national level -- one that takes into consideration the complexities of all organization involved and perhaps one that reduces or eliminates the costs involved with establishing such programs. They are doing this through programs that are easily implemented at your organization and that focus on what WE, as firefighters, need in terms of functional fitness. This work currently includes $1.5 million in FEMA grant funded research that aims to improve firefighter fitness and make it much more accessible to all organizations.
If you are interested in learning more about The First Twenty and checking it all out, email me with your information. I will get the first twenty respondents registered for free to able to start using the resources.
Check them out and follow them on Twitter: @thefirsttwenty. More good things are coming, but for now, give them a look.
It starts with you. Be safe. Be healthy. Go home.
Dan Kerrigan is a 28-year fire service veteran and an assistant fire marshal/deputy emergency management coordinator and department health and fitness coordinator for the East Whiteland Township Department of Codes and Life Safety in Chester County, Pennsylvania. Kerrigan is a graduate of the National Fire Academy’s Executive Fire Officer Program and holds a Master’s Degree in Executive Fire Service Leadership. He is a PA State Fire Academy Suppression Level Instructor as well as an adjunct professor at Anna Maria College and Immaculata University. Contact Kerrigan at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @dankerrigan2.