It was an honor to have recently participated in the latest round of the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation’s Heart to Heart: Strategizing an Evidence-Based Approach to Reduce Cardiac Disease and Death in the Fire Service initiative. The meeting brought together fire service research scientists, fire service professionals, and marketing experts from across the country with the common goal of developing a messaging campaign designed to effectively communicate the importance of firefighter cardiac health to our many different fire service audiences.
Of the many topics discussed by the group, one that clearly stood out throughout the two-day work session was the company officer’s critical role as a champion for firefighter health and fitness, and it’s definitely worthy of discussion—here and at firehouse kitchen tables across the country.
As Strong as our Weakest Link
When it comes to our physical fitness, our core is our center. It connects the major muscle groups of the upper and lower body, and it provides the stability we need to work safely and efficiently. A weak core is like a broken link in a chain, and it will lead to negative consequences in terms of our personal fitness, health, and job performance.
In the fire station, there is not a more important link in the chain than the company officer.
The company officer is the core that connects the firefighters to the fire chief and the companies to each other—the conduit through which all important information should pass. The company officer must “show up”—every shift, ready to lead in every way. Central to the roles of a company officer are guiding and mentoring firefighters and leading the way as a representative and advocate for the department. Most of all, being a company officer means being an advocate—setting the right example for the firefighters, the department, and the community.
When it comes to firefighter fitness, it is the company officer that has the best opportunity to impact everyone from the rookie to the chief. Sure, there will always be individually motivated firefighters that can make it easy on the company officer, and there are certainly fire chiefs that have moved beyond the intellectual agreement that our health is critical through their personal example. But on a day-to-day basis, no other person has a better forum to demonstrate the importance of firefighter fitness than the company officer.
Attitude, accountability, and action will always be the cornerstones of fitness success. If company officers treat firefighter fitness with the same passion as they do when they lead their troops into battle on the fireground, the results will surely follow. As a company officer, it is a responsibility you simply cannot ignore. And, as our firefighter cardiac health messaging takes shape, I can assure you that you will be counted on heavily for your support.
So I ask you, when walk in to the station for your next shift, how will you answer this question:
What will I do today to improve the health and fitness of my crew?
It has been said many times—there are leaders, and there are those who lead.
Which are you?
Dan Kerrigan, EFO, CFO is co-author of Firefighter Functional Fitness and Assistant Fire Marshal, East Whiteland Fire Department (PA). A 30-year fire service veteran, he is a passionate advocate for firefighter health and fitness and regularly researches, presents and is published on firefighter fitness, health & wellness.
The Director of The First Twenty’s Firefighter Functional Training Advisory Panel, he also works closely with the IAFC, NFFF, and NVFC on strategies to improve fitness and reduce health-related LODDs in the fire service. He is a frequent contributor to Fire Engineering Magazine and Firefighter Toolbox.
Dan 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, Neumann University, and Immaculata University. He was the 2014 recipient of the IAFC-VCOS Emerging Leader Scholarship sponsored by Dr. Richard Gasaway.
Connect with Dan on Twitter (@dankerrigan911 & @FirefighterFFit), on LinkedIn, Facebook (@FirefighterFFit), and at FirefighterFunctionalFitness.com.