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Yucca Fire Department

The Importance of Physical Fitness Standards in the Fire Service

It's a commitment that only a select few are willing to make. It brings with it the greatest of rewards, yet with each passing day come the destructive forces of time, bodily abuse and physiological stresses that compromise our longevity.

Being able to say "I'm a firefighter" is something we all cherish. Unlike the nine-to-fivers who fill the office buildings and cubicles throughout the cities we serve, being a firefighter is not a job; it's a way of life. For many, it becomes an inseparable passion, a force that unconsciously steers our daily lives. Our closets become a sea of blue; the walls of our houses become a storyboard of the fires we've fought, the certifications we've earned and the brothers and sisters with whom we've served. But with every cherished moment there's an unmistakable truth that's often overlooked: We're one day older and one day closer to passing the baton.

The career of a professional athlete is limited on the basis of their ability to physically perform to the standards their fans demand. For some, careers are shortened by an unexpected injury; others face the consequences of poor genetics or a less-than-disciplined youth. And yes, there are the chosen few who defy all odds and perform beyond their years, but they are few and far between.

In stark contrast to the world of professional sports, the fire service is not faced with a fan base that demands a roster of homerun hitters, three-point shooters or celebrity personalities. Nor are we afforded the opportunity to have an occasional bad day. Firefighters are expected to perform at their highest level, without exception and without excuses, on every call.

At the time of this writing, the American fire service has lost 27 of our brethren so far in 2014; 17 of these losses have been attributed to stress or overexertion, which eventually led to a heart attack or a cerebrovascular accident. As disturbing as it may be, a line-of-duty death (LODD) due to a cardiac-related event is not an uncommon occurrence in the fire service; in fact, it's been the elephant in the room for far too long.

For many, the solution to medical-related LODDs is healthy eating and physical fitness. But it's not that simple. Whether we like it or not, our profession is best suited for a youthful workforce that's absent of physical restrictions and/or limitations. In many cases we can prolong our careers by maintaining a healthy diet and working out regularly, but the fact remains, there are no guarantees. That's why we have an obligation to undergo regular medical screenings—and an equal obligation to step aside when evidence suggests that a health or age-related factor poses a risk to ourselves and therefore a risk to our crew.

Yet many within our proud profession continue to create barriers to the existing preventive measures that are most likely to promote our own longevity. They refuse to prioritize medical evaluations and mandatory physical fitness standards for fear of sending someone toward a medical disability or an early retirement—forgetting that retirement means nothing to someone who dies in the line of duty.

Equally disturbing are those who see their fitness and health as an individual choice that doesn't have repercussions on others. In a recent conversation, a firefighter told me, "If I died of a heart attack while fighting a fire, at least I'd die happy." If he'd been a bass fisherman on a small pond, in a boat by himself, that statement might not be so troubling—but as firefighters, we work as a team and when one of us goes down, it jeopardizes the safety of all of us.

As a firefighter who reluctantly admits that my years served now exceed the years I have remaining in my career, it's becoming increasingly clear that I have a responsibility to myself, my family and to those I serve, to maintain my health and fitness to the best of my ability. I have an equal responsibility to subject myself to medical evaluations that allow for the early diagnosis or the intervention of an illness that might threaten my ability to respond to fires—and to act on such information if/when I receive it.

Being a firefighter is ultimately about service. But that service isn't tied to your ability to throw a ladder or stretch a hoseline. There are countless ways to continue to serve your community through the department long after medical or age restrictions prevent you from going on calls. In fact, truly selfless service demands that you do everything you can to ensure you're fit for duty—and pass the baton when you're no longer fit to carry it.

5 Tests to Measure Your Fireground Fitness

By Aaron Zamzow

Published Tuesday, July 1, 2014 | From the July 2014 Issue of FireRescue

Editor’s note: This article presents an informal way to assess firefighter fitness. Individual scores should not be used against any firefighter or as part of a performance review.

Around my department, the crews (on their way to the weight room) talk about getting “FRF”—Fire Rescue Fit. What is FRF, and even more importantly, are you it?

Most firefighters, when asked whether they’re fit, will think about how much weight they can lift or whether they’re overweight. But being “firefighter fit” is much more than that. Being able to lift heavy weights doesn’t necessarily mean you’re that strong. When talking about firefighter fitness, you are only as strong as your weakest part. As firefighters, we must not only be able to lift a lot of weight; we must also have good muscular endurance, great core and grip strength, and the ability to recover quickly.

The challenge that we as fire rescue athletes face: How can we measure all of those attributes?

Skills & Traits

There are really two aspects to job performance when it comes to being a “fit” firefighter. There is the skill aspect—being able to efficiently force doors, cut roofs, raise ladders and drag heavy objects. Then, there are the other fitness factors, the physical traits such as strength and power, that will determine how skilled you could potentially be.

As rookies, we must pass the Candidate Physical Ability Test (CPAT). But for many of us, that will be the last time our fireground fitness is tested. More progressive departments may require an annual stress test or medical screening, but few put firefighters through an annual test that incorporates actual fireground activity.

In the absence of national physical fitness standards for firefighters, it’s up to each company officer to ensure that their crew is fit for duty. In this article, I’ll introduce you to five fitness assessments that I believe can provide a snapshot of firefighter fitness. An easy and informal way to assess your fitness level is to perform these five tests in the order listed in 30 minutes, add your scores and see how you measure up.

Test #1: Wall Squat (Functional Mobility)

Most people sacrifice mobility and flexibility training for working on their beach muscles. Yet the more mobile you are, the better you can move your joints through their full range of motion and the less likely you are to be injured. This wall squat test will reveal functional limitations in your ankles, hips and lower and upper back—places where men especially tend to be tight and inflexible. Most people don’t do well on this test because they have a rounded back or inflexible ankles.

How to test: Stand facing a wall with your feet shoulder-width apart and toes 2 inches from the base and slightly turned out. Squat down as low as you can, keeping your feet flat, chest up and back naturally arched. Do not let any part of your body touch the wall.

Results:

  • Able to full squat in control = 3 points
  • Squat halfway down = 2 points
  • Less than half way = 1 point
  • Fell over = 0 points

Test #2: Standing Broad Jump (Power)

Muscular power has been identified by research as an important aspect of sport and firefighting performance. Power helps the fire rescue athlete quickly drag heavy objects like hoseline and victims. The broad jump is one of the purest gauges of raw power. It requires several muscle groups throughout the body to fire at once. The stronger and more explosive you are, the more force you’ll generate and the further you will jump.

How to test: Stand with your toes on a line and your feet shoulder-width apart. Dip your knees, swing your arms and jump as far as you can. Measure the distance from the starting line to where your toes first hit. Note if you step back, that distance is your score.

Results:

  • Jump greater than 8 feet = 3 points
  • 7-8 feet = 2 points
  • 6-7 feet = 1 point
  • Less than 6 feet = 0 points

Test #3: Deadlift-Curl to Press (Muscular Strength/Endurance)

Firefighting is a highly physical job that requires a high level of strength and anaerobic endurance. An aggressive interior fire attack, scaling a ladder with heavy equipment and tools to ventilate a roof, lifting or dragging an unconscious victim all require a high level of both strength and anaerobic endurance. Anaerobic endurance refers to your ability to work at near-maximal intensity in bursts in sub-minute bursts. The more efficiently you utilize oxygen, the more effective you can be on the fireground.

How to test: Use dumbbells that total roughly 30 percent of your body weight (that’s 60-pounders if you weigh 200 pounds) and hold them by your sides with your feet shoulder-width apart. Keeping your back naturally arched and your head up, push your hips back and lower your body until your thighs are parallel to the floor (deadlift). As you stand up, curl the dumbbells to shoulder height and then press them straight overhead. Return to the starting position and repeat as many times as possible in 1 minute.

Results:

  • Get 20 reps or more in 1 minute = 3 points
  • 16–19 reps = 2 points
  • 12–15 reps = 1 point
  • 11 reps or less = 0 points

Test #4: Plank (Core Strength)

A strong core transfers to a stronger athlete. All movement starts and is supported by the core. Most people think of a strong core as having a nice six-pack, or toned abs, but the truth is that the abdominal muscles are a very small part of the core. The core actually consists of many different muscles that stabilize the spine and pelvis, and run the entire length of the torso. When these muscles contract, they stabilize the spine, pelvis and shoulder girdle and create a solid base of support to generate powerful movements. A strong core distributes the forces of stressful movements and protects the back. You can’t be fire rescue fit if you don’t have a strong core.

How to test: Lay on the ground with your elbows directly below your shoulders. Lift your hips and put your weight on your toes and forearms. Your body should form a straight line from your shoulders to ankles. Prepare your core by contracting your abs as if you were about to be punched. Hold this position for as long as you can. When your hips sag or your knees touch the floor, you’re done.

Results:

  • Hold plank for more than 3 minutes = 3 points
  • 2 to 3 minutes = 2 points
  • 1 to 2 minutes = 1 point
  • Less than 1 minute = 0 points

Test #5: 1.5-Mile Run (Aerobic Endurance)

VO2 max, or maximal oxygen uptake, refers to the maximum amount of oxygen that an individual can utilize during intense or maximal exercise. It is one factor that can determine an athlete’s capacity to perform sustained exercise, and it’s linked to aerobic endurance. This measurement is generally considered the best indicator of an athlete’s cardiovascular fitness and aerobic endurance. The 1.5-mile run is a measure of aerobic power (cardiovascular endurance). The objective in the 1.5-mile run is to cover the distance as fast as possible. Note: Do not take this test unless you can run at least 20 minutes continuously.

How to test: Run all-out for 1.5 miles (six times around a standard quarter-mile track, located at many schools and some parks) and record your time. You can also perform this test on a treadmill. When running on the treadmill, be sure to let your arms swing freely at your sides (do not hold on to the handrails). Keep the incline of the treadmill level at zero. You or your partner need to record the time on the treadmill when you complete 1.5 miles at your testing speed (keep in mind it takes a few seconds to increase the speed of the treadmill).

Results:

  • Finish in less than 10:30 minutes = 3 points
  • 12–10:30 minutes = 2 points
  • 12–13 minutes = 1 point
  • Greater than 13 minutes = 0 points

How Did You Do?

As mentioned, these tests are not meant to be a formal assessment of your fitness, but in my experience, if you score 14 or 15, you’re likely among the most fit in the fire service. A score of 10–13 indicates that your current fitness regime is serving you well in preparing you for the fireground. A score of 9 and below means you need to hit the gym and improve your level of fitness—try to incorporate more intervals and full-body resistance training.

Over the last 10 years I’ve had the privilege to work with numerous fire rescue athletes of varying ages and fitness levels. The FRF scoring system was created from this experience. For example, a 35-year-old firefighter who runs a lot scored a 9. She had great endurance and core strength but lacked muscular strength and functional mobility. This was indicated by her lower scores in the wall squat and deadlift-curl to press. Another 28-year-old firefighter/medic who lifts weights consistently scored an 11 on the FRF test. He had great power and strength but lacked functional mobility and endurance, indicated by his lower scores in the squat and 1.5-mile run. Both of these individuals are “fit,” but after completing the test they recognized that they could improve on certain aspects of their fitness level.

The main goal of any assessment is to determine where an individual can improve. Company officers and firefighters should use these tests to motivate their crews and departments to improve their overall levels of fitness and ultimately be “fit for duty.”

Ace the Candidate Physical Ability Test (CPAT)

by Stew Smith

Ace the Candidate Physical Ability Test (CPAT)

I responded to an email from a sailor who loved his Navy job so much that he continued his public service as a firefighter when he retired. As an Aviation Boatswain's Mate, he was one of 35,000 Navy personnel who receive ship-board firefighting training each year. After his Navy service, the retired 38 year old had to then physically prepare for the firefighting academy in his county. With his help - and the help of other local firefighters from Canada, New York City, and other major cities - we created a program to help him ace the Candidate Physical Ability Test (CPAT).

Each year, many of today's military personnel are continuing public service professions once out of the military - performing jobs in law enforcement, firefighting, and emergency medicine. Many of these heroes are also continuing their military service as Reservists or National Guard members, and have to take physical fitness tests every six months to stay operational.

It is difficult to fit fitness into a busy day or night of shift work, family duties, and other distractions. But it is vital that our public servants perform their jobs in a manner than does not unnecessarily risk their lives or the lives of the people they protect. Here are some ideas to help with quick fitness routines when time is short.

The Jumping Jack/Pushup Routine

(Repeat 5-10 times: Jumping jacks-10 reps and Pushups-10 reps) This one gets the heart going and pumps the arms and chest. I use it to wake me when the need to stay alert is required. It only takes 3-5 minutes! 

Try not to rest other than touching your toes after jumping jacks and walking your hands out in front of you and slowly place yourself into the pushup position. I usually do this before a workout to get the muscles loose but it is a great way to take a few minutes and get 50-100 pushups. Do this throughout the day, every hour or so and you will have several reps of pushups done.

Mix in Legs With Above Workout

Add squats in between jumping jacks and pushups for a great full body pump that only takes 5-7 minutes. I recommend doing 10-20 reps of squats or half squats when doing this workout.

Do it With Dumbbells

Place dumbbells near your workspace and pick them up every so often to get in a quick full body workout as well. I like to do what I call Multi-Joint Exercise with dumbbells:

Multi-Joint Dumbbell #1

This multi-joint exercise focuses on the upper-body by mixing several exercises into one movement. This one mixes bicep curls, military press and triceps extensions. Start with dumbbells by the waist, raise them doing a bicep curl, then over head, and then behind your head - repeat in reverse order.

Full-Body Dumbbell #2

This multi-joint exercise adds lower body exercises to Full-body dumbbells #1. This exercise mixes triceps extensions, military press, bicep curls, and full squats. Start with dumbbells by the waist, perform a squat, then raise them doing a bicep curl, then over head, and then behind your head - repeat in reverse order.

Full-Body Dumbbell #3

This multi-joint exercise adds lower body exercises to Full-body dumbbells #1. This exercise mixes triceps extensions, military press, bicep curls, full squats, squat thrust, and pushup. Start with dumbbells by the waist, perform a squat, a squat thrust, then a pushup, then reverse squat thrust, squat up, then raise them doing a bicep curl, then over head, and then behind your head - repeat in reverse order.

These are some quick ideas to help you fit fitness into your schedule. The thing to remember about fitness - if it is not in the schedule, it does not exist!

Here are some tips on how to maintain good fitness and nutrition, on both your on- and off-duty days:

Workouts

On Duty: There are plenty of people in your department who will say, “I need to save my energy for the ripper we’re going to have later.”That’s totally understandable, but if you’re still waiting for the “ripper” on your off-days, then I’d rather see you do something while you’re at work so you get on some kind of routine.

Even if you only have twenty minutes to workout, do it. Try doing anything metabolic - Tabatas; barbell, dumbbell, or kettlebell complexes; or what we at Training for Warriors call a hurricane. If you have time to watch an episode of Duck Dynasty, you have time for a quick workout. Always aim to do something, preferably before a meal, to ensure your metabolism is revved up.

Off Duty: The toughest thing is the schedule. You may be tired after your shift from a lack of sleep or physically tired from the day before, but the longer you put off your workout, the less likely it is to occur. Do yourself a favor and get to the gym right after your shift is over.

There is no such thing as a Monday/Wednesday/Friday plan with this rotating schedule. Plan out your workout schedule for the month ahead. I’ve made this month easier for you by including three workouts below.

Nutrition

On Duty: If you’re on duty, there are temptations all around, from the snacks in the firehouse, to take-out menus everywhere you turn, to the shift cook who happens to use exclusively unhealthy ingredients. And then there’s the additional temptation to help yourself to seconds.

Pack your meals and you’ll have no excuses. Have a healthy go-to snack ready for when you’re feeling the munchies.You’ll save money and not have to deal with any of the above hurdles, so long as you stick with it. The only hurdle to going this route is the jokes you’ll hear from the guys.

Off Duty: Don’t stop with the planning and packing your healthy meals, keep it going!

Sample Workouts

Exercises labeled A/B are to be performed as a superset with no rest in between.

Workout - Day 1:

1. Vertical Jumps (5 x 4)

Jump as high as you can, using your arms. Land softly under control, and immediately explode into your next jump.

2A. Back Squats (4 x 6)

Use any object as added resistance on your back to perform these. Some examples of choices for added resistance are: partner, sandbag, fire hose, weighted vest, heavy ropes, etc.

2B. Feet Elevated Push-Ups (4 x 12)

Elevate your feet on any stable object about knee height. If you are advanced enough add resistance across your upper back (sandbag, weight plate, use a weighted vest, partner manual resistance, heavy ropes, etc.)

3A. Single-Leg Glute Bridge (4 x 12)

Bend one leg toward your hips, flex your ankle, so that your knee is slightly less than 90 degrees, and only your heal is in contact with the ground. Keeping the other leg off of the ground, squeeze your glutes, and lift your hips off the ground so that your knee, hip, and shoulder are in alignment.

3B. Pull-Ups (4 x 8)

Use an overhand grip with your hands just outside shoulder width. These can be done on a regular bar, stable ceiling parts, stable doorway parts, etc.

4A. Sprints (3 x 40 Yards)

If you are new to sprints, or have not sprinted in a while sprint at about 75-80 percent speed for at least your first week, and progressively increase the speed as you build yourself up. If you have a shorter area, just make sure the total is 30 yards.

4B. Forward Drags (3 x 20 yards)

Drag any heavy object forward (human dummy, partner, sandbag, fire hose, heavy ropes, etc.)

5A. Plank (Feet Elevated) (3 x 30 Seconds)

If you are advanced enough add resistance across your upper back (sandbag, weight plate, use a weighted vest, partner manual resistance, heavy ropes, etc.)

5B. Leg Lifts (3 x 15)

Start on your back with hands across your chest. Brace your abs. Keep your legs straight. Lower as close as you can to the ground without touching.)

Workout - Day 2:

1. Broad Jumps (5 x 4)

Jump as far forward as you can using your arms. Land softly under control, and immediately explode into your next jump.

2A. Walking Lunges (4 x 8) (8 Each leg)

If you are advanced enough do these with added resistance such as: partner, sandbag, fire hose, weighted vest, heavy ropes, etc.

2B. Standing Overhead Press (4 x 10)

Used any form of resistance that you can (partner, sandbag, fire hose, weighted vest, heavy ropes, etc.) Make sure these are done standing. Brace your abs, squeeze your glutes, and make sure you lock out overhead.

3A. Single-Leg Glute Bridge (4 x 12)

Bend one leg toward your hips, flex your ankle, so that your knee is slightly less than 90 degrees, and only your heal is in contact with the ground. Keeping the other leg off of the ground, squeeze your glutes, and lift your hips off the ground so that your knee, hip, and shoulder are in alignment.

3B. Bent-Over Row (4 x 10)

Use any form of resistance that you can (partner, sandbag, fire hose, weighted vest, heavy ropes, etc.). Bent forward so that you upper body is about parallel with the ground. Keep your spine in a neutral position and your head straight throughout the entire exercise.

4A. Stair Sprints (3 x 30 Yards)

If you are advanced enough do these with added resistance such as a weighted vest or all of your uniform on. If you have shorter flights of stairs just make sure the total is 30 yards.

4B. Backward Drags (3 x 20 yards)

Drag any heavy object backwards (human dummy, partner, sandbag, fire hose, heavy ropes, etc.)

5A. Plank (Feet Elevated) (3 x 30 Seconds)

If you are advanced enough add resistance across your upper back (sandbag, weight plate, use a weighted vest, partner manual resistance, heavy ropes, etc.)

5B. Leg Lifts (3 x 15)

Start on your back with hands across your chest. Brace your abs. Keep your legs straight. Lower as close as you can to the ground without touching.)

Workout - Day 3:

1. Object Jumps (5 x 4)

Jump over an object about knee height (partner on hands and knees, box, bench, fire hose, sandbags on top of each other, etc.) Just make sure the object is stable in case you hit it.

2A. Step-Ups (4 x 6) (6 Each Leg)

Use an object about knee height (bench, small table, chair (without wheels), etc.) Make sure the object is stable. If you are advanced enough do these with added resistance such as: partner, sandbag, fire hose, weighted vest, heavy ropes, etc. Step up and come to a balanced position without touching your opposite foot to the object, then return to the floor. The foot of the working leg does not come off of the object until all 6 reps. are complete. Do not alternate legs.

2B. Standing Object Curls (4 x 15)

Do these with added resistance such as: partner, sandbag, fire hose, weighted vest, heavy ropes, etc. Make sure these are done standing.

3A. Single-Leg Glute Bridge (4 x 12)

Bend one leg toward your hips, flex your ankle, so that your knee is slightly less than 90 degrees, and only your heal is in contact with the ground. Keeping the other leg off of the ground, squeeze your glutes, and lift your hips off the ground so that your knee, hip, and shoulder are in alignment.

3B. Standing Object Triceps Extensions (4 x 15)

Do these with added resistance such as: partner, sandbag, fire hose, weighted vest, heavy ropes, etc. Make sure these are done standing. Bring your arms overhead, then bend your elbows so that your elbows are pointed straight up toward the ceiling, and your upper arm is perpendicular to the ground. Finish with your arms extended.

4A. Object Carry (4 x 30 Yards)

Carry any heavy object (human dummy, partner, sandbag, fire hose, heavy ropes, etc.)

4B. Lateral Drags (3 x 20 yards)

Drag any heavy object sideways (human dummy, partner, sandbag, fire hose, heavy ropes, etc.)

5A. Plank (Feet Elevated) (3 x 30 Seconds)

If you are advanced enough add resistance across your upper back (sandbag, weight plate, use a weighted vest, partner manual resistance, heavy ropes, etc.)

5B. Leg Lifts (3 x 15)

Start on your back with hands across your chest. Brace your abs. Keep your legs straight. Lower as close as you can to the ground without touching.)

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