Health and Fitness: Fitness for firefighters
Ryan Summerlin August 10, 2012
There are more than 1 million firefighters who work in the United States. The job requirements of the firefighter vary, but can include actives such as extracting people from cars and buildings, being the emergency first responders and general community service. As fire prevention technology becomes more advanced, the role of the firefighter has evolved as well.
According to a study titled “Acceptance of a medical first-responder role by fire fighters,” auto extractions represent a large percentage of the tasks associated with firefighters. The auto extraction device, aka the jaws of life, is hefty and, while several different manufacturers make the device, most weigh between 50 and 100 pounds and must be held for long periods of time. Other odd objects of varying weight can include carrying hoses, ladders and victims over large distances across rough terrain.
The physical and cardiovascular demands are further increased by the added weight of the equipment. Firefighters use air tanks and wear fire-retardant boots, jackets, gloves and helmets – all of which can add more than 70 pounds. This same individual is then required to quickly climb stairs and rescue victims at the same time dealing with the exposer to heat and stress. Needless to say, the physical and emotional demands on a firefighter are extremely high. It can be a stressful job, with the top cause of on-duty death being heart attack. Cardiovascular disease is also the top cause of death in the United States.
So what does it take to be a good firefighter? A joint study done with the Fayetteville Fire Department in Fayetteville, Ark., and the University of Arkansas, published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, looked at what physical attributes are important to firefighting. The researchers found that, “high performance of several fitness parameters – upper-body strength, abdominal strength, upper-body muscular endurance, and anaerobic power – was shown to be related to high performance.” This is slightly different than most sports performance enchantment protocols. Usually lower-body exercises such as squats, lunges and jumps are the cornerstone of many athletic routines as the biggest demands are for lower-body power and strength. However, as mentioned earlier, the role of the firefighter is unique. They must frequently get into awkward and injury-prone positions when crawling and twisting that challenges core strength. The fact that firefighters need to carry victims along with heavy equipment and use the jaws of life for long periods reiterates the study that found that upper body strength and endurance lead to higher performance. Also, because cardiovascular failure was the leading cause of on-duty death, adding some aerobic activity for at least 30 minutes would be a consideration.
There are very few professions that require the physical and emotional demands that firefighting does. There are also very few professions where failure can have such catastrophic consequences. That is why it is critical to assess the job requirements, asses the individual to determine what the strengths and weakness are, and then develop the fitness program based on actual needs.
– Kyler Crouse, BS, CSCS is a personal fitness coach that works out of Sierra Athletic Club. He graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Exercise Physiology/Minor in Nutrition and earned the most prestigious certification in the industry, the NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist. Visit www.KCstrength.com for more information.