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While signing books on Monday during FDIC, a large (pushing 375 lbs) firefighter approached me with his slightly slimmer, but still girthy entourage of three. I extend my hand in greeting, which was met with a chest puffing and the comment "I don't like the way you make fun of big people!" Being taken off my guard by his comment, I respectfully asked if he is a front line firefighter. He answered with a snarky "I'm a kick-a** go-gitter!" I then asked how long he could last on one 30 min SCBA bottle - he responds "30 minutes!" Annoyed by his demeanor and eager for a spirited fight, I tell him that he's lying to me. I continue that he is not only a risk for heart attack or stroke, but that he is putting his entire crew at risk because they may be called to rescue him from a hostile environment. He flips me a ‘fan gesture’ and says he knew I'd be a "d***". Ah, my fans!

I'm telling you this story because it opened my eyes to a problem that we don't hear much about in the fire service – obesity as an epidemic. I spent the remainder of my week at FDIC watching people and taking mental notes of how many ‘front-line’ firefighters would be considered obese - and the percentage was alarming (pushing 40%). What’s more, that percentage became higher as the week progressed. Many variables play into this, of course, and Lord knows most of us have pounds that we could shed, but this is a topic that needs to be discussed.

Heart disease, stroke, hypertension, diabetes, certain types of cancer, arthritis, sleep apnea, stress, lack of agility, back injuries… the list of injury and devastating health problems due to obesity is long! Isn’t this job hazardous enough without us adding to the problem with actions we can change? If you fall into this category, get up, get out, and start getting in shape! Begin a fitness and nutrition program, and stick with it – your body, mind, and soul will thank you!

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Comment by Paul Combs on May 7, 2012 at 1:28pm

Thanks for jumping into the conversation, Chief!

Comment by John K. Murphy on May 7, 2012 at 12:47pm

Paul - noticed the same thing - why are we selling 3 - 6X T shirts at these events. Can you be obese and healthy? Seems like an oxymoron but the medical evidence is overwhelming in favor of leaner firefighters and in the general population as well. The predominant cause of LODD's over the past 10 years has been cardiovascular events or strokes; the message of a healthier lifestyle is falling of deaf ears. I have been an advocate of fitness and regular medical checkups. NFPA 1582, Section 6 is a good place to start for initial and recurrent medical physicals. The Peer Fitness Programs are great for your departments as well. Fire Departments need to have a department physician in their community who knows what we do for a living and the physical demands placed on the firefighters during a working alarm. They are a great impartial resource for the firefighters and the departments.  We also should implement a fitness standard across the fire service industry that calls for annual medical and fitness evaluations and if you cannot perform those essential functions of the job and pass a medical physical, have a period of remediation. If you still cannot perform then you need to seek alternative work. This applies to both volunteer and career firefighters - there is no excuse for departments to shirk their responsibility. Do skinny and "fit" people die? Certainly they do, but the added weight places an inordinate strain on your system and soon, heart disease, high cholesterol and diabetes will be a part of your life. Obese firefighters also place a burden on your brother and sister firefighters when you go down at the scene of an emergency. The resuscitation statistics do not favor you in this situation. Paul, you are right on with this illustration.  Thanks for taking the "heat" on this one.

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