HEALTHCreating Buy-In From Senior Firefighters

Creating Buy-In From Senior Firefighters

By: Jake Patten SCCC, TSAC-F, USAW, Pn-1

It is all about the data. Data drives everything as we all know, but the problem is acquiring data in the strength and conditioning industry requires a certain set of standards that need to be in place.

Fairfax County Fire and Rescue did not have strength and conditioning standards, nor did we have enough of our senior leadership, as well as other people in our department, who truly understood what it was that we needed to measure. We were so caught up in training to do the job on the fire ground that over the years our department started blending fitness with job tasks as a measurement of how fit someone was. So, in 2017, during our annual Work Performance Evaluation (WPE), the data that I was hunting was grazing right in front of me. 

To help you better understand what I was I was watching and drawing health related conclusions from, this is FCFRD’s SOP regarding the WPE:

Preparation: Pre-Assessment Screening, vitals taken

Event 1: Protective Gear Donning (multiple people had an issue completing this on their own but not because of job training)

Event 2: Ladder carry and throw

Event 3: Forcible Entry 

Event 4: High-Rise Pack 

Event 5: Handline Advance 

Event 6: Handline Withdrawal 

Event 7: Pike Pole 

Event 8: Equipment Carry 

Event 9: Ventilation/Sled 

Event 10: Victim Rescue 

*Entire evaluation to be completed in under 10:47 for a passing score* 

Now for those of you who have not seen this evaluation in person, I will say it is an efficient way to measure someone’s ability to perform basic fire ground tasks. Although some events could use an updated version, the WPE allows for an evaluator to get a clear picture of what the participating firefighter is able to do on the job and how well they recover after the events when their vitals are taken and recovery is implemented. The problem I witnessed with the evaluation is when a percentage of our people had a significantly hard time putting their gear on to start. Whether it was their jacket, reaching the valve on their SCBA, or even putting a face piece on and breathing air while in their gear, they had a hard time getting ready for the events, yet all of them (except three people who did not complete their WPEs due to an injury) completed the WPE in under ten minutes and forty-seven seconds. 

So, the conclusion I came to was simple; as effective as the WPE was at evaluating a firefighter’s job task efficiency, it was not as effective at measuring one’s physical fitness status. As a strength coach, and for our division, our vision is simple; our goal is to reduce the risk for injury, illness and death of our employees by getting and keeping them in optimal physical condition. When our personnel do get sick or injured, we focus our efforts to get them back to work safely and efficiently by providing a positive experience alongside a strength and conditioning program so that they can get back to their career as a firefighter. We needed a measurement of our people’s overall state of fitness.

I went to work on how to prove to our senior staff why this was the case and how we could improve our people’s strength and conditioning as well as what data we could present to them. Since we had morning workout groups already in place at our Wellness and Fitness facility (Well-Fit gym), as well as workout programs that we sent out to the field for every firehouse to partake in, I started implementing a simple push-up challenge each week. I would only track a few people’s push-ups each week from our morning group at Well-Fit, both male and female with a wide range of experience and put that data into a chart. Based on simple progressive-overloading strength programming, as well as consistent participation by my group of people, I was able to showcase how simple, yet effective, it was to improve a firefighter’s strength in around four months’ time frame.

These are four out of about eight people that were able to use a basic strength program and push-up assessment to showcase how physiological adaptation from efficient progressive overloading provided our people a solid increase in their fitness levels.

From there, we had those same few firefighters go through WPE to highlight how boosting a firefighter’s strength and conditioning improves their fire ground capabilities because as their strength and conditioning improved, their WPE times went down, and their job task completions became easier for them. 

Using this “scientific experiment” really helped us put together the proper data needed to showcase the “why” for physical fitness standards and furthering our health and wellness capabilities in our department. Since statistically the leading cause of line-of-duty death is linked to cardiovascular disease, we were fighting hard to implement a change in how we evaluated our people. We are currently implementing FMAP (fitness measurement assessment protocol, which consists of pull-ups, curl-ups, push-ups, and a step test scored based on gender and age) annually, using WPE for our firefighters who have been out of the field for more than six months, an InBody scan done at each physical/medical appointment to assess body fat/basal metabolic/visceral fat/skeletal muscle mass, etc., and growing our peer fitness coaches program. 

With the help of the NSCA, TSAC, and colleagues around the tactical athlete field, we are pushing our senior leadership and our county to provide our firefighters with the best chance to have a long and healthy career so that they can enjoy a happy and long retirement. 

Data drives it all, so use what resources you must find a way to prove how even the simplest of measurements can provide a wealth of knowledge for your “how” and “why”. Push-ups are a simple and efficient way to start, track the program for a few weeks, use a fire job task as a compare/contrast factor, and then put it into a presentation that you will need to be able to defend and sell to your command staff. It took us almost two and a half years to receive approval on the changes we were asking for, as well as a little buy-in from the right set of leaders, but it was worth every single second of our fight because at the end of the day, it is all about helping our firefighters so that they can better serve our communities. 

Photo by Fortune Vieyra on Unsplash