The reduced time and the increasing temperatures that structure fires burn due to modern day products, diminishes the window we have for rescue rapidly.
If this isn’t a wake up call enough to be in excellent physical shape, the rate of Cardiac related deaths, sleep apnia, and the risk of cancers, diabetes and other health issues in the fire service should be.
Cardiac related events accounted for 38% of in the line of duty deaths in 2016 and 44% in the last 10 years. This number, while declining since the early days of the study (70-80’s) still results is still the number one cause of on-duty firefighter deaths in the united states. Researchers estimate that for every LODD there is approximately 17 non fatal cardiac events on duty every year.
just as there is an increasing focus on fire ground safety, as important as it is, there also needs to be an emphasis on the reduction and mitigation of this number of deaths and injury by investing in training, assessment and a fitness protocol with a standard that all members should adhere to.
Testing, not only for performance standards to be met, but health, wellness and other pre screening should be mandatory if the fire service is to move ahead and be proactive rather than watch the fitness standard slip lower. All members should be held accountable for their level of fitness, this is a physical job and the obligation is there to meet the standard. Testing will force those who don’t train and take care of themselves to change. For the better.
Obviously it greatly helps if the leadership is supportive of the investment in time, resources, programming and equipment. However the ultimate responsibility relies on the individual to maintain the standard in a profession such as firefighting where your life, crew and the public may be compromised by you being overweight and unfit. Studies have shown that obese firefighters demonstrated a much lower level of aerobic fitness combined with worse performance on timed assessments.
This lack of personal responsibility is unacceptable as physical training is imperative to addressing the job requirements.
When training, we should be aiming to train for the most physically demanding aspects of the job, as uncertain as that occurrence may be, not the most common call that we have on our departments. Although the call type, physicality and volume change between halls and departments, the cumulative effect of multiple, complex and emotional calls is a vital and under appreciated component of the fire service
Many health, wellness and injury prevention plans often lacking the volume, intensity and duration to replicate job performance successfully, but it is a great starting point and foundation to build on.
The professional’s body is the most valuable piece of equipment they have. This should cared for with the preparation of with physical training, adequate sleep between shifts and recovery through various forms of stress management and nutrition. The professional responsibility demands that you return to your following shift rested and ready to work. The reality is this is far from the truth, with moonlighting and second jobs prevalent in most departments, families and the stressors that come with it. Less than ideal nutritional habits such as poor diet, irregular eating habits and the metabolic effect of shift work, combined with disrupted sleep patterns and the wheels quickly come off leading to a multitude of health problems and may cast doubt on the members commitment to the profession.