Firefighting requires a high level of physical ability to meet the demands of the job. During the recognition of Safety Stand Down week, we look at the demands on physical health for the tasks of firefighting and focus on improvements as part of conditioning programs.
Firefighting can be a very dangerous profession requiring good physical condition to access and use heavy equipment, manage charged hoses, lift accident victims and manipulate around dangerous environments. An initial physical fitness screening test is completed when first joining the department to confirm proper fitness levels.
Firefighter health and safety is positively associated with proper physical fitness and routine medical screenings. Strength training can also be an essential part of a firefighter’s physical make-up and maintaining good health. Firefighters and first responders have an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, cardiac arrest, and cancer illness. Traditional risk factors, including hypertension, smoking, metabolic syndrome, diabetes, thyroid disorders and other conditions, can often be identified during regular health screenings and routine blood tests.
In addition to taking care of your medical conditions through annual exams, you must look at your physical conditioning level, keeping in mind all things body appropriate. Age, previous injuries, body type and job requirements all factor into what is an appropriate level of physical ability for a firefighter. Medical evaluations will give you a benchmark from which to begin accepting a realistic set of fitness goals and time-specific exercises. Initial medical exams provide an accurate picture of a firefighter’s baseline health and applying specific wellness programs can improve this medical picture year-to-year. Cardiac health, oxygen volume, stamina, endurance and strength can all be evaluated utilizing medical exams with testing geared specifically to the firefighter. Stress tests, body fat analysis, cholesterol and triglyceride ratios, and even sugar production are just a few of the values of these examinations, providing greater understanding into what makes a healthy firefighter.
Within the fire service, safety standards such as NFPA 1500 have been developed. There are also fitness standards, such as NFPA 1583 and a medical standard in NFPA 1582. Tests performed during the NFPA 1583 fitness evaluation include aerobic capacity, muscular strength (hands, arms and legs), body composition, muscular endurance, and flexibility. In addition, there are joint labor and management initiatives in the International Association of Fire Fighters and the International Association of Fire Chiefs Wellness-Fitness Initiative.
Improving the overall physical health and mental well-being of firefighters has been shown to improve work performance and reduce work-related injuries. Start a physical fitness routine today and improve your health through diet, exercise, improved sleep, weight training, stress reduction and medical examinations.