Under most of the governing bodies for public safety, there are requirements for making sure your members can perform there duties safely and efficiently. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration are one such organization that makes reference to the ability of firefighters under Standard 1910.156(b)(2) and states:
Personnel. The employer shall assure that employees who are expected to do interior structural fire fighting are physically capable of performing duties which may be assigned to them during emergencies. The employer shall not permit employees with known heart disease, epilepsy, or emphysema, to participate in fire brigade emergency activities unless a physician’s certificate of the employees’ fitness to participate in such activities is provided. For employees assigned to fire brigades before September 15, 1980, this paragraph is effective on September 15, 1990. For employees assigned to fire brigades on or after September 15, 1980, this paragraph is effective December 15, 1980.
The National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA) as well as the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) all have similar standards and policies to help departments ensure the compliance and qualification of emergency responders. You can find those standards or policies online.
The focus of this article is the physical fitness component of the wellness program. When starting a program you must first remember to get all the information you can about your personnel. It starts with a simple questionnaire called a Par Q. Once this is obtained, a doctor’s clearance would be the next step. Not all departments are utilizing medical physicals or can afford it. This is a prevalent problem in the public safety sector and needs to be addressed since it can identify underlying medical issues that your members may have.
The next step is a simple assessment of strength, cardio, and flexibility. There are many different styles of this testing regimen, but you can utilize the Presidents Challenge. The Presidents Challenge is a method of testing your aerobic health, flexibility and strength. It is a very easy to use program that can offer information about your health for no cost.
Another way to test your members is to setup a physical agility gauged to your specific job function. One test that has been proven to work for online personnel is the Job Related Ability Test, also known as the JRAT that I developed in 2006. These are all tools to help your department and guide it to a more specific physical fitness program.
Here is a breakdown of the Job Related Ability Test (J-RAT)©:
The J-RAT consists of seven separate stations. This test is job specific for new hire career/volunteer as well as yearly testing for current firefighters. The course requires the participant to progress from station to station in a continuous manner without stopping. The test is a pass/fail test based on forward progress at all times.
The new hire participant will wear a 45 pound weighted vest, protective helmet, leather gloves, long pants, t-shirt and running shoes. In cases of colder climates, participant can wear sweatshirt. The weight vest, gloves, and helmet will be supplied by the fire department.
The certified firefighter will wear a self contained breathing apparatus, SCBA mask, full protective bunker gear, and will be breathing through the Self Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA). SCBA will be supplied by the fire department; the rest of the gear will be the gear that has been issued to that firefighter.
Note: Prior to beginning the J-RAT, a short medical evaluation will be conducted to include vitals, current medications, current medical history and, if available, tympanic body temperatures.
TASK 1: Forcible Entry Simulator/Roof Simulator
The participant will stand on the platform in a straddle position and using an eight pound hammer, strike the 165 pound beam. The beam must move five feet and cross the back end of the Kieser sled. Once the beam has crossed the end the participant will dismount the Kieser and walk 100 feet to the end of course, turn and walk back another 100 feet to Task 2.
TASK 2: Charged Hose-line Drag
The participant will pick up the nozzle and place the 1.75 inch hose over one shoulder and across front of body. Then drag the hose 75 feet at which time they can drop the nozzle and proceed to walk the rest of the 100 feet of the course. Participant will then return to the start, which is another 100 feet back to Task 3.
TASK 3: Equipment Carry
The participant will then grab the 2.5 inch high-rise hose pack and place it onto one of their shoulders. At this time the participant will walk to the end of course 100 feet and turn and come back to the start 100 feet with pack on shoulder. Then the participant will start on Task 4.
TASK 4: Stair Climb
With the high-rise pack on participants shoulder, you will start ascending the staircase up, reach the landing, turn and walk back down. This would be one cycle. You will need to complete four cycles. Participant can use railing for support, can skip stairs going up, but cannot skip stairs on descent. The participant will then repeat Task 3.
TASK 5: Ceiling Breach
The participant will drop the high-rise pack, then lift the 45 pound bar and begin to extend it upwards 10 times. The participant can switch arms at any time as long as he/she fully extends forward arm to complete 10 evolutions. As soon as 10 extensions are complete the participant will place the bar back down and lift the high-rise pack back onto the shoulder to repeat Task 4. At the conclusion of Task 4 the participant will repeat Task 3. At the conclusion of Task 3 the participant will repeat Task 4 for the last time.
TASK 6: Hose Hoist
On the last ascent the participant will drop the high-rise pack at the top of stairs and reach over the rail, grasp the rope, and begin to pull the rope until the hose reaches the top. The full pull will be 33 feet. Using a change of direction pulley and elevated source to obtain the full distance, participant cannot let go of rope causing the hose to drop. There must always be control of rolled hose attached to the rope. Participant can use the rail as a leverage point. At the conclusion of hose hoist the participant will walk 100 feet to Task 7.
TASK 7: Victim Rescue
Once the participant reaches the victim he/she will have two options on the rescue drag. There will be webbing available to wrap around the chest of victim and under its armpits, using it as handles to drag. Another option would be to lift victim up, grab under arms and around chest, and drag victim that way. Whichever option used the participant will drag victim a total of 100 feet to cross the finish line and conclude test. Participant will be allowed to put victim down two times for either adjustment or to get a better hold. Otherwise this will show forward progress not being maintained.
Note: Following the conclusion of the J-RAT, post vitals will be taken immediately. The participant will rehab as long as it takes to bring them back to normal limits. Vitals will be taken at five-minute intervals.
Implementing a Fitness Program
Once you have obtained a medical clearance, Par Q, and physical fitness assessment, you can move on to a more structured fitness program for your public safety personnel. You can create personal programs for each individual with the help of a certified fitness trainer. If your department’s budget cannot support the assistance of a fitness trainer, then using personnel within your organization with a fitness background might be your best option. You can also start with a circuit program that your department can create using tools at there disposal. Many departments across the south east are utilizing this type of training.
The following program takes you through an example of the Job Oriented Skills Endurance Training, more recognized as the JOSET©program I designed for departmental daily physical fitness training:
- Start with setting up as many stations as there is personnel at your station
- Some examples of stations can be; squats, equipment carry, ladder climb, high-rise drill, hose deployment, hose roll, pushups, leg raises, etc.
- Number the stations so that you know where to go in sequence and not run into each other
- Each member takes a station and starts to do continuous repetitions
- You can do timed stations or just use a number set of reps
- When the station time or reps end, move to the next in sequence
- Continue this for 20 minutes or more
- imiting any rest period will help with the cardio portion of this interval circuit training session
- The time it takes to go from one station to the next is plenty of down time
- You can gauge the amount of energy you put in by doing more reps or heavier weight
- The numbered stations may go from one to seven, at which time you would proceed back to number one
- Keeping your heart rate in a target zone will be key
There are many ways to approach the Wellness and Fitness Initiative. The main thing to remember is that what ever the approach, always keep in mind that the health and well being of your members is the most important. Your department may not have the funds to start a large Wellness Initiative but, with some help from other departments, online support and information available from your certifying agencies, you can start somewhere. It doesn’t take thousands of dollars to make it work, just buy in from your members and backing from your administration.