The First Twenty is being put to the test.
The program is being studied in two federally funded research projects. The first is funded by FEMA’s Assistance to Firefighter Grant’s Research and Development mechanism and is taking place in 10 volunteer fire departments across the country. The other study is funded by the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and is pilot testing a clinic based version of the program with volunteer firefighters in Long Island. Both studies are being run by scientists at the University of Texas – Houston’s School of Public Health and the National Development & Research Institutes’ Center for Fire, Rescue & EMS Health Research.
The importance of these studies cannot be underestimated for a number of reasons. First, both FEMA and NIH have strenuous review processes and only a small percentage of the proposals submitted are funded. Decisions at FEMA go through separate scientific and fire service relevance reviews which means that, not only was the study scientifically sound, but the The First Twenty program was judged promising enough to be fundable and the topic of improving firefighter health important enough to warrant support. Similarly, NIH judges both the content of interventions as well as the scientific integrity of the proposals which highlights the strengths of the program as judged by some of the top scientists in the country.
Second, the studies will be able to stringently assess what program components work well and which ones need to be improved. The studies will provide the data necessary for newer versions of the program that maximize success. There is a tendency for wellness programs to alter their practices based on what seems to be well received but often without actual evidence to support the decisions.
Third, this will be the first (at least to our knowledge) empirically validated wellness program in an online format for the fire service. There is an adage that “something is always better than nothing;” yet, that is not always the case as science has found time and time again. Implementing any program comes at a cost which makes it important to know that the program being used will be effective.
Stay tuned for study results!
This article was written by Sara A. Jahnke, Ph.D.. Dr. Jahnke is the director of the Center for Fire, Rescue and EMS Health Research at the National Development and Research Institutes Inc. Dr. Jahnke has served as the principal investigator of two large-scale studies of the health and readiness of the U.S. fire service funded by the Department of Homeland Security and a qualitative study of health and wellness with a national sample of fire service representatives from the American Heart Association. She serves as the principal investigator of a study on the health of women firefighters. She also serves as a co-investigator of several studies focused on fitness, nutrition and health behaviors in both firefighters and military populations. She completed her doctorate in psychology with a health emphasis at the University of Missouri – Kansas City and the American Heart Associations' Fellowship on the Epidemiology and Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease.