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Firefighter Health and Wellness: Setting the Right Example

                                                                                                      Courtesy: glengoschfitness.com

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. 

As you know, 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 (both personal and organizational) 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.

This time, we have a personal success story that everyone should read from Michael Franzone, a 45 year old firefighter with 23 years in the service. Michael’s weight when he decided to make a change was 233 pounds. He is now at a healthy 183 pounds.

Mike's story should serve as an inspiration to us all:

In early 2013 my 38” waist pants were getting a little “snug” and I refused to go bigger. That fact, combined with the number of firefighter line of duty deaths due to heart attack and other health related issues, along with a deep family history, made me realize it was time for a change.

A friend and hockey teammate, who has been a fitness/nutrition professional for a number of years, had always told me he was willing to help if I was willing to accept it.  He was ecstatic when, in March of 2013, I told him it was time. He immediately had me do a food diary of EVERYTHING I ate for a week.  He realized my problems right away, telling me I could lose a lot of weight simply by not eating after 8PM, especially on the days I was at the Firehouse. My diet was changed. It was very difficult at first but I was determined to stick to it.

Exercise was even worse!! I met with him once a week to train, mostly functional fitness type exercises and to get a plan for the week. Once I started training, I noticed quicker recovery times and gains in fitness and function almost immediately.

Cardio was another story. Part of my workouts was to follow weight training with an hour of cardio. This was not an easy task at first. I was unable to walk at length without being winded. Before I knew it though, I was doing interval training including both walking and running. It didn't take long to increase the amount of time I could run vs. walk over the hour.

With the weight loss and overall improvements he set a goal of 200# by Christmas 2013.  Christmas came and the goal was bettered by 5#, 195!  I had lost 38# in 9 months and had never felt better.

One of the biggest benefits to this point was on the Fireground. I have worked on a truck company for the past seven years and was always winded, cramped, sore, you name it while working at a fire (never mind the fact that you could have flash frozen pretty much anything that came in contact with my SCBA cylinder)!  After the initial weight loss and improvement in cardio/strength, I didn’t feel like I was going to die after going through an SCBA cylinder.

As an added bonus, in October 2013 my cholesterol was 213, after seven months of improved eating, by January 2015 it was down to 169. All of my numbers have improved as far as the blood work is concerned.

Since Mike has made his changes, he’s entered and participated in several half marathons and Spartan races. He continues to improve and set new personal goals. He has transformed himself both physically and mentally, and I couldn’t be prouder of him! He offers these additional insights:

  • There will always be those that will tell you how to do it better (Someone always has a better diet or exercise plan).
  • What works for one person may not work for the next.
  • There is peer pressure involved in changing anything, but positive peer pressure works!
  • If you have chosen to eat certain foods at certain times of the day, stick to it. You are ultimately doing this for you.
  • Work around shift meals, offer to cook and cook what you eat. If your shift partners care, they will ask if there is something you can’t or don’t eat.
  • What you are doing will probably benefit everyone.
  • If you stick to it and show results, there will be those that jump on your bandwagon.

 

Now, we are not suggesting that everyone needs to train so they can compete in marathons and Spartan races; however, we should all train functionally so that we are assets to our family, our co-workers, and our community members, not liabilities.

At the end of the day, Mike’s story is proof of several things:

  • Our bodies are quite resilient and responsive. It does not take long to notice tangible differences in capacity, strength, and generally how good we feel once we make some small changes in an effort to take better care of ourselves.
  • Exercise has health benefits too. Reduced cholesterol and blood pressure are two of the most important ones to consider.
  • Don’t think that your singular, personal effort will go unnoticed. People are watching you, and you could very well be the catalyst for many more in your organization to take better care of themselves. Set the right example!

 

Thanks for reading, and please do not hesitate to contact me if there is anything I can do to help you in your health and wellness quest.

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 dkerrigan@eastwhiteland.org or follow him on Twitter @dankerrigan2.

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