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The Definition of Insanity

Albert Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.  In the fire service we often use this definition to conveniently fit certain situations or our own agendas, especially when it comes to health and fitness.  We see it every day in many of our firehouses.  We make comments to one another; and maybe, just maybe, we express our concerns to management about a coworker’s level of fitness, performance levels, or our innate fear of going into a hazardous environment with the individual in question.


I’ll be blunt.

It does not take a rocket scientist to look around a fire conference, training event, or even the local firehouse kitchen table and predict the level of risk that we face in the arena of health and fitness.  However, the topic of fitness is never breached with certain individuals because it would be “uncomfortable.”


The truth is, the status quo with regard to firefighter health and fitness does not apply any more. 


It’s a Brotherhood

The last I heard, we operate in a team environment, and the best teams are only as good as their weakest link.  In our business, the weakest link can get others injured or even killed.  Why do we not hold those around us accountable when it comes to their health and fitness?  And, what actions do we take to help those that we think may need assistance or guidance?

If a firefighter suffers a heart attack, everyone in the organization is affected from the top down.  From firefighter to fire chief, the impact hits hard.  We should all be held to the same standard, and we must do more than agree firefighter health and fitness is important. 


It is true that accountability starts with the individual.  But, if that individual is not doing what it takes, then it is our duty, our responsibility, to help.  While administrators routinely hold personnel accountable for training issues, professional conduct, and topics as delicate as social media, many still look the other way when it is time to deal with an overweight, out of shape, or medically compromised firefighter.

Take Action

 What does it take?  Here’s a start:

  • Uncomfortable conversations that will likely result in hurt feelings.  
  • Organizational commitment from the top down.
  • Resources, policies, and cultural buy-in from every member of the department.


Need a little motivation?  

Whether you are the one who is struggling with your own health and fitness, you take this aspect of our job for granted, or you are a firefighter who is reliant on someone with questionable operational capabilities, take a look at your family.  Take a look at your coworkers’ families.  Look at the children, the spouses, and the parents of members of your department.  Look in their eyes and think about which uncomfortable conversation you’d rather have:  The conversation regarding health, wellness, and overall fitness, or the conversation that ends with “your daddy is not coming home”.


As a chief, I have had to deal with the loss of a firefighter due to the lack commitment for health and wellness by the individual as well as the organization.  I have looked into the eyes of the children that were left behind without a father.  Trust me when I tell you:  Proactive definitely beats reactive.  It is time to start having uncomfortable conversations, and it is time to start holding everyone on our team accountable for the health and wellness.


It is time to stop the insanity.

This article was written by Firefighter Functional Training Panel Member Fire Chief Jake Rhoades of Kingman Fire Department, AZ.

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