Being in “Shape” is Relative; Being Fit for Duty is not
In this time of fitness fads and trends, I submit to you that in the business of firefighting, there is no room for confusing what is and what is not fit for duty.
Under your turn outs, no one cares if you have six pack abs or biceps like boulders. What the community you swore to serve and what your crew cares about is that you arrive ready -- physically and mentally able and with enough technical skills to mitigate their emergency and return home. Hopefully we can all agree on that.
Recently we have seen members of the fire service argue and attack those that espouse functional fitness and health, saying that fitness does not make a firefighter. It is funny -- now that I am getting older, I have the opportunity to watch things come full circle. What was that old saying, that certifications don’t make a firefighter? While I agree in theory on both points, it is disheartening to see our brothers and sisters arguing over perceptions and opinions instead of true facts and the discussion that surrounds those facts. Consider this fact for example, especially those of you who still think you’re young and strong enough that you do not need to worry about your fitness for duty: In the retrospective case-control study, Sudden Cardiac Death Among Firefighters 45 or less Years of Age in the United States, the discussion of the results included the conclusion that on-duty SCD (sudden cardiac death) in younger firefighters, even those aged <35 years, is primarily related to preventable lifestyle factors, which culminate in obesity and CHD (coronary heart disease), among others (Yang, et. al., 2013).
As a firefighter, you must be trained in a skill first, and then you must practice it to become proficient. Learning your emotional and physical response to stressful situations and your boundaries of fear and panic are also essential tools in our job; the psychological aspect of our required training. Finally you need to be physically able to place high demands of physical stress on your muscles and cardiovascular system at a moment’s notice in order to perform. Combining all of those things results in what we refer to as your level of functional fitness.
What “in shape” means to you may not be my definition of fitness. Who cares?! It is time to acknowledge that we each have individual levels of functioning ability -- physically, mentally and technically. Once you identify your personal levels, it your responsibility to address your areas of improvement and assure that you can provide the service you are sworn to provide and still return home safe and healthy.
Functional fitness is about being fit enough to perform; physically, mentally and technically. What you need to work on, how you get there and what method used is up to you. Whether it is today, tomorrow or a year from now, you will be tested. Being fit for duty is not relative; you are either fit mentally, physically and technically to accomplish the job and go home, or you’re not.
Yang, J., Teehan, D., Farioli, A., Bauer, D. M., Smith, D., & Kales, S. N. (2013). Sudden cardiac death among firefighters 45 or less years of age in the United States. Retrieved from The American Journal of Cardiology website: www.ajconline.org
This article was written by The First Twenty Firefighter Functional Training Panel member Raymond Stackhouse, Superintendent of Life Safety, Caln Township, PA