“You don’t have to get ready if you stay ready.”-Jake Lovejoy
According to the United States Fire Administration, 1,000 firefighter line-of-duty deaths (LODDs) have occurred in the United States between 2005 and 2014. Of those, “stress and overexertion” (defined by the United States Fire Administration (USFA) as cardiac, cerebrovascular, and climatic thermal exposure in nature) were blamed for 513 or 51.3% of these deaths (See table 1). This statistic is alarming and illustrates the dire need for us as firefighters to place primary focus on improving our personal physical fitness.
The fire service needs to be passionate about firefighter fitness:
1. Being fit for duty is the most basic requirement for every firefighter–both career and volunteer.
2. Improving personal fitness will play a large role in reducing the number of LODDs that the fire service suffers each year, specifically those caused by medical and cardiac issues.
The question remains: What is the best way to improve our fitness as firefighters? Some experts emphasize the importance of improving our cardiovascular capacity. On the other end of the spectrum, some firefighters may only choose to lift weights, neglecting other important aspects of their fitness. A holistic approach to improving our fitness, specifically a functional fitness approach, is the best solution. You may have heard the term “functional fitness” before, but what does it means to be a firefighter who is functionally fit? Functional fitness is a method of fitness that uses real-life activities and positions to best prepare you for optimal fireground performance. In other words, fitness training must directly reflect of the level of dynamic fitness required for the fireground.
Disclaimer: We are not licensed physical trainers, nutritionists, or dietitians. What is expressed in this article are fitness components and an overall approach that have helped us achieve and maintain functional fitness throughout our careers as firefighters.
The Big Eight
Within the realm of firefighting, thinking about functional fitness training in terms of “the Big Eight” will help you improve your ability to execute basic fireground tasks, reduce the occurrence of injury, increase resiliency, and improve the recovery process.
“The Big Eight” consists of five functional movements and three interrelated fitness components:
“The Big Eight” encompasses three general fitness fundamentals: flexibility/core strength, cardiovascular capacity, and strength training. By adding the fourth fundamental, nutrition and lifestyle, you can begin to develop a roadmap to optimal firefighter functional fitness. Functional fitness has many options and approaches, but it is the best solution to help you be fit for duty and enjoy a long career in the fire service.
Flexibility and Core Strength
Flexibility and core strength are often the most neglected areas of firefighter fitness. However, improving these elements has been shown to decrease the frequency and severity of sprains and strains, according to a research study performed by Matthew T. Anderson (2002). Think about it, when you are working on the fireground, not only do you exert yourself beyond normal limits, you are also maneuvering your body and working in some of the most awkward positions imaginable.
In firefighting, proper body orientation to the task at hand is not always possible. Since you do not have the luxury of proper technique all the time, you must ensure that your body is flexible and that you maintain a strong core. This will help reduce the frequency of fireground injuries.