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Fitness Success and International Fire/EMS Safety and Health Week

International Fire/EMS Safety and Health Week, sponsored by the IAFC and NVFC, starts June 14 and runs through June 20, 2015. This year's theme, Creating a Culture of Safety, offers many opportunities for improvement from the community, department, and personal perspectives. Whether you take on a fitness challenge like this one developed by my department, promote a safety initiative at your department, increase advocacy for home fire safety and education, or all of the above, there is plenty of work to be done!

I've said it before...when it comes to health and safety, you make a difference. Individual efforts aimed at reducing personal exposure to the hazards we face not only improve your own health, they set the right example for others. These individual efforts make you a champion of heath and safety and prove to others that it can be done.

Firefighter Functional Fitness Circuit Challenge

In support of this year's safety and health week activities, I continue to share health and wellness success stories on the personal and organizational level. This time, I'd like you to read about Kyle Sanders of Metro West Fire Protection District in St. Louis County, MO, and Engine House Training, LLC. His story of personal determination is yet another example of how one person can not only change their own lifestyle for the better, it's also more proof that one person can influence positive change in others as well.

I started my career in a small department that did not take fitness or health seriously at all. It was actually frowned upon if you did any kind of extra training activity or physical exercise. The mindset was it has always been that way, so why change?  Although very sad, it was accepted that the older guys would have heart attacks and “medical out.” Many would just rely on the younger, newer guys to do the work on calls. As the new guy, it was very easy for me to embrace the same attitude, keeping it easy to fit in. I was so excited that I had just gotten a full time firefighter/ paramedic job. It was like I had won the lottery, winning the best job ever!  It was very easy to take advantage of the big breakfast every morning. Then after the morning’s work, of course, order out for lunch or take off, in radio service, to a fast food place before an afternoon nap. Dinner, well we all know how a firehouse dinner goes, was a huge spread where you would eat until you had to undo your belt, then sit in the recliner until dessert time.  Of course don’t forget the coffee and soda. Drinking coffee all morning until lunch and switching over to soda the rest of the time.  I had a huge change cup in my locker full of my soda money. After a couple years of this, I found myself up to 250 lbs. with a size 40 waist and very uncomfortable.   

My change started one August afternoon during hose testing. I got a soda after being outside in the heat all day and just felt terrible. That was when I realized I needed to start some kind of change. I can honestly say that was the last soda I have ever had. Shortly after that, I started finding my way down to the workout room to do some basic workouts instead of sitting around all day. It was during this time that my wife and I found out we were expecting our first child, and it kind of hit home that this was not at all the life style I needed.  I owed it to my family, crew, and the people I was supposed to be protecting. What is a truck full of out of shape firefighters going to be able to do?  I was watching the P90X infomercial one day and thought that would be something to try.  I started asking around and found a guy at my department that had just started the program and was having success with it. I ordered it and started the day after it came in. I found myself waking up at 4:30 in the morning, working out before work and altering my diet. I started Weight Watchers and stuck with it. I had my wife, who just had a baby, working with me and keeping me in line. After about a week, I started to notice a difference in the way I felt -- I had more energy, and I didn’t need that afternoon nap anymore. When I was done with the P90X, 90 day program, my weight was down in the 180s, and I felt great. I was able to do my job with ease, and the biggest change was when we would catch a fire.

I would not suck a bottle down.  

I was able to stay in longer and do more work. 

I was able to keep the weight off for over two years. 

It’s personally gratifying when you come out of interior firefighting conditions and have the most air left! I continued doing cardiovascular conditioning and light weightlifting, combined with a sensible diet, to maintain my new and improved lifestyle. 

Just as I was starting to get bored with the same old stuff, a new guy was hired at the firehouse.  He was training for an Iron Man challenge.  He talked me into running with him one morning before work. I had never been a runner before and, for whatever reason, had always stayed away from it. About a year later I found myself getting up and going for a three to four mile run almost every day.This is when I noticed the biggest difference with work and life in general.  So many everyday tasks are so much easier to accomplish. It has been four years total now that I have kept my weight off and managed to keep myself in a healthy life style. As for my small department, I and a few others have made the point to promote physical fitness and a healthy life style, especially with the new guys so they don’t fall into the same unhealthy routine.  

I have had the opportunity to spread my story throughout the state when I have been teaching for Engine House Training at other small departments, in hopes that it may help someone else. I recently moved on in my career to a large district that is very proactive in fitness, health, and wellness. It is so nice to be supported, versus frowned upon, for continuing this lifestyle. We have crew workouts, and my company officer pushes healthy eating habits and physical fitness every day. 

My commitment to you is to continue to push for a healthier fire service. I'll do this through personal example and hard work to increase awareness about the alarmingly high number of LODDs we suffer on an annual basis due to health related issues. Help me get the job done. Don't think for a minute that you, as an individual, do not make a difference, because you do. Every single firefighter that gets off the couch and starts moving sets the right example. Be a part of the solution, not the problem; be an asset, not a liability! 

Dan Kerrigan is a 28-year fire service veteran and an assistant fire marshal/deputy emergency management coordinator and department health and fitness coordinator for the East Whiteland Township Department of Codes and Life Safety in Chester County, Pennsylvania and the Director of The First Twenty’s Firefighter Functional Training Advisory Panel. Kerrigan is a graduate of the National Fire Academy’s Executive Fire Officer Program and 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. Connect with Kerrigan at dkerrigan@eastwhiteland.org, on LinkedIn, or follow him on Twitter @dankerrigan2. Follow The First Twenty at @thefirsttwenty

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