Firefighter fitness? Of course! But why?

Dr. Paul Davis

By Dr. Paul Davis for Lion Connects

Firefighting remains one of the few occupations left that requires heavy lifting. Just about everyone else has figured out a way to use hydraulics or electricity to lighten the load. And this is not likely to change for us anytime soon.

Water weighs in at 8.3 pounds per gallon, and people – both patients and victims – continue to expand in size. Firefighters move a lot of both of these – water and people. Bottom line, this is a job for people who aren’t afraid of getting their hands dirty and doing a little heavy lifting.

In a country where physical fitness is a vanishing attribute, the attention to personal fitness has never been more important. Graduating high school students, in huge numbers are disqualified for military service. The U.S. Army recently has an entire battalion in remedial physical training, just so that they can go to Basic Training! The Marines are reaching over the lackadaisical high school programs to cull out the best physical specimens by using their own fitness challenge.  The fire service spends the equivalent of hundreds of thousands of dollars every year rehabilitating people so that they can graduate from the academy, only to have these same people revert to their original, de-conditioned selves as soon as they get off probation.

Shifting of responsibilities to someone else seems to be the modus operandi these days. What happened to being prepared to perform your best at the job you really wanted? Selling the fire service on employee benefits unfortunately misses the picture of what this job should be about: saving lives and property. Why shouldn’t recruits be prepared to meet the challenges of the job before they sign on?

The Boy Scouts have a motto that is still apropos: “Be prepared.” Several years ago, some smart people decided that we need to improve on our practices, avoiding stupid mistakes and allowing everyone to go home. Regrettably a lot of our firefighters should have stayed home. Heart disease, a condition that can, in large measure be controlled by the individual, continues unchanged, to claim the majority of line-of-duty deaths.

The litmus test for personal fitness is pretty simple: are you working out? And by that I mean you are exercising to the point in which you need to take a shower afterwards?

Personal fitness is a personal responsibility. It may not guarantee you eternal life or immunity from heart disease. But the odds are stacked that way.

Dr. Paul Davis received his Ph.D. from the University of Maryland, College of Human Performance. A former firefighter/paramedic, he is a renowned expert witness on the subject of physical fitness and employment standards in the public safety sector. His ground-breaking research was the basis for the creation of the Firefighter Combat Challenge.