Skills vs. Fitness

“Another one for the toolbox!” If you have been involved with the fire service you have most likely heard something like this, but for those of you that are not in the fire service, the toolbox is just referring to the knowledge and skills that a firefighter is responsible for developing and carrying with them throughout their career. In this toolbox you will find many things, some as simple as where a certain street is in their district or how to do CPR, to more complicated things like how to set up rigging and ropes for a high angle rescue or the ignition temperatures of different building materials. Throughout one’s career this toolbox gets bigger and bigger with the hope that when something unexpected happens they can come back to some skill or knowledge that they have stored in that “toolbox” to complete the task at hand. The skills and knowledge in this toolbox are ones that are always evolving and can always be worked on.


Physical fitness works just like these other skills, it is something that is learned and developed over a long period of time. In order to improve your overall strength and endurance it could take months or years to see dramatic improvements. To some people fitness and “the toolbox” get separated, but it is important to understand that one can drastically improve the other.

Knowledge without fitness could lead one into a situation where they just do not have the ability to complete the task, but fitness without knowledge can also lead to the same result.

An example of this is when advancing a hose line into a home, there is a skill in knowing the most efficient way to move from the truck to the fireroom, but it requires a certain amount of strength and endurance to do so. If the firefighter lacks on the knowledge or experience side, they may be able to make up the difference by having a higher fitness level. On the other side, if the firefighter has the knowledge and experience they may be able to make up for what they lack in fitness.

Physical fitness is something that needs to be learned and developed over the course of one’s career. No one is born with the knowledge of a fitness coach or a salty firefighter, it’s something that takes time and focus.

In 2017, the U.S. Fire Administration and FEMA found that 52 Line of Duty Deaths occurred from stress and/or overexertion, which accounted for 59.8 percent of all LODD that year. The risk increases as you get older with 25 of these LODD occurring from heart attacks between 51 to 60 years old.

So where do you start if you are looking to improve your fitness? Just start! The internet is an endless resource when it comes to fitness related to the fire service. Just like any other skill you must start adding knowledge and experience to your toolbox. Slowly you will begin to expand your knowledge base, which will lead to being able to make decisions on what does or does not work for you.

Try to improve your strength as well as your endurance, and train like you fight. If you are training for the fire service think about how long you work on a fire scene, how long you rest before you must do it all over again, what kind of movements are difficult for you and which ones you are good at. Find your weaknesses and figure out how to improve them, just like you would any other skill in the fire service. It takes consistent effort and focus, but there will always be something you can learn or get better at.

The goal is to leave this job with some room at the end. Health and fitness is something that can drastically improve your chances of not only surviving your career but enjoying it!

Train Hard, Train Often

Brock McCallister is a certified firefighter in South Carolina, head trainer for Fitness Forum and CrossFit L2 trainer. Contact the Fitness Forum Occupational Testing Services for your annual physicals that include your fitness assessment at 843-661-3814.

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