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Be Selfish with your Personal Fitness

The Olympics are here, and most of us have been watching our American athletes as they perform to the best of their ability. We sit mesmerized watching these athletes compete against the best from other countries. These athletes are the elite of the elite, and they are amazing to watch. We cheer at successes and cringe at defeat right alongside these athletes.

Firefighters are equated to being professional athletes in the level of physical fitness we must maintain to perform successfully in our profession. Can you honestly say you train in physical fitness to the level of a professional athlete? I’ll be honest; I know I probably don’t, but I try. (I would be left sitting in the dust if I tried to compete against an Olympic athlete.)

The difference between firefighters and Olympic athletes when it comes to physical fitness success is not as simple as a tenth of a point, a millisecond, or a goal away from a gold or silver or bronze medal. For us, physical fitness success is the difference between life and death. This life and death difference does not just pertain to us as individuals; the fitness choices we make impact our brothers and sisters in service and our citizens we have taken an oath to protect.

So how do we step up our game and train like a professional athlete? Each of us plays a role and has a responsibility. As firefighters, we MUST make a personal commitment. Cardiac related LODDs account for about half of all firefighter LODDs annually.

Half. Let that sink in.

I know it’s hard to find time in our personal lives; we all have priorities outside of the fire service: Family, children, second jobs, hobbies, etc. However, we need to be selfish in our commitment to our fitness in that we put ourselves first. How can one be selfish when it comes to themselves and physical fitness, you may ask yourself? You can, and you should be. Commit to you, make YOUR fitness a top priority.


Because if you are not here, and not here healthy, none of the other things matter.

You won’t be there for your family, your children, your hobbies, or your second jobs let alone your department, crew, and citizens. You won’t be able to enjoy any of these things if you become a statistic as a LODD.

So, be selfish. Put yourself first. Make your physical fitness a priority above all else, regardless of rank. If you aren’t offered time on duty to engage in physical fitness, then you must use personal time. Involve your family with fitness—make it a family event. (My two sons and I often engage in sports activities together as fitness. My oldest, now that he’s 13 and allowed to by gym rules, will go the gym with me.) Be that role model your family deserves.

Do all you can to train as the elite Olympic athlete that you are as a firefighter. There are no silver or bronze medals in our profession. We only get one chance when that time comes, and we must get the gold.

Keep the conversation going. Tell us how you make fitness a priority in a busy life.

This article was written by The First Twenty Firefighter Functional Training Panel member Fire Chief Susanna Schmitt Williams of the Town of Carrboro Fire Department, North Carolina.

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