• From the Field with Katie Sell
    Katie Sell, PhD, CSCS,*D, TSAC-F is an Associate Professor in the Department of Health Studies and Kinesiology at Hofstra University. Her primary research interests lie in the area of physical fitness assessment, programming, and injury prevention for collegiate athletes and wildland firefighters.
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  • From the Field BannerFrom the Field | Katie SellKatie Sell, PhD, CSCS,*D, TSAC-F    Katie Sell is an Associate Professor in the Department of Health Studies and Kinesiology at Hofstra University. Her primary research interests lie in the area of physical fitness assessment, programming, and injury prevention for collegiate athletes and wildland firefighters. She is currently on the NSCA Tactical Strength and Conditioning Special Interest Group (SIG) Executive Council and a consultant with FireFit, an interagency wildland firefighter fitness task group.

    1. What tactical population do you currently work with?

    Wildland firefighters and the FireFit Task Group.

    2. How did you get started in the TSAC (Tactical Strength and Conditioning) field?

    I first began getting involved in firefighter health and fitness assessment through my graduate assistantship while I was completing my Doctoral work at the University of Utah. The PEAK Academy at the university had been asked to conduct and interpret physical fitness testing on local structural fire departments. The connection with one department lead to networking with other departments, which laid the foundation for future research and outreach endeavors which included wildland fire departments. After completing my Doctorate I moved to the east coast where I met the wonderful Mark Stephenson at a regional conference. 
    At the time, Stephenson was spearheading the development of the TSAC program at the NSCA, and after listening to him discuss the program and realizing immediately the positive impact such an endeavor could have for tactical populations, I immediately volunteered to help and quickly got involved with the TSAC Special Interest Group (SIG).  
    Over the last six years, I have primarily focused on wildland firefighting populations as a result of the collaborations and networking that has taken place and also due to the considerably lower volume of research and outreach found in wildland versus structural firefighting groups..

    3. What resources do you utilize for continuing education? 

    Anything useful I can find! The best resources I like to look to are other people currently working in the field through networking at conferences, forums, or informal discussion. However, given that departmental and agency policy also significantly influences resources and program implementation feasibility, it is also important to stay up to date on the latest agency publications related to health and wellness programming (this is also a great way to stay in touch with what upper administration in a department are getting told, so this makes for some great selling points when trying to justify certain programming approaches).  
    I also try to stay, as much as possible, up to date with what is trending/being posted on popular media – internet, apps, etc. You can also get a good idea of what the people you are programming for might also be reading, so you can help rationalize how it might (or might not) be the best approach for them to take to achieve their training goals. There is no one perfect approach that applies to every firefighter (just like athletes and the general population), so by talking with other people and reading professional publications as well as the popular media I feel you can get the best toolbox of information for what might work from a motivational and practical perspective with different firefighters.

    4. If you where hiring someone in your field, what would you look for?

    An appreciation of what it takes to be a firefighter. I do not think they have to have been one themselves, but what it takes physically, psychologically, and emotionally to do the job and to cope with the stresses of the job. After all, firefighters, whether they are structural, volunteer, wildland, military, or any other designation, already know how to do their job; a TSAC professional is there to help them better cope with the physical stress it places upon their body and to decrease the risk of health detriments associated with the job.  
    They may have been doing so by networking themselves and attending conferences such as the NSCA-TSAC, where I know I have been very impressed with the immense amount of information sharing and collaboration that has taken place. 
    I would also expect to see that they have certain certifications and credentials (e.g., TSAC-F, NSCA-CPT®, CSCS®, Peer Fitness Trainer), which suggests they have been actively seeking out further education/knowledge in the field of strength and conditioning. But they should also show enthusiasm and openness to continuing education, as a certification is great, but the field is always changing and new research and resources (especially textbooks and user-friendly manuals) are coming out all the time, advancing the field and bettering practices.

    Possibly the most obvious component I would expect them to have is experience with developing and implementing strength and conditioning programs to individuals and small groups. I would like to see this experience including clientele for whom health-related fitness was an emphasis, as well as guiding more advanced athletes, to show that they are comfortable with working with the diversity of health- and fitness-related goals that may present throughout a given fire department. In showing this experience they would hopefully be comfortable with implementing different motivational strategies for enhancing adherence when necessary.

    5. Please describe the regular duties included in your position?

    Working with the FireFit group I help review materials prior to posting on the website, and also assist wildland fire departments when needed with guidance on testing choices and interpretation, as well as liaise with the researchers through the various governing bodies associated with wildland firefighter health and safety. I am also actively involved in research with wildland firefighter communities in which I primarily focus on physical fitness assessment and fitness changes throughout the fire season.

    6. What are the two most important things you have learned; that you wish you knew when you were starting your career?

    Firstly, I learned to be patient with the red tape! Volunteering or working in a paid position that centers around physical fitness programming or other TSAC-related endeavors with firefighters can be frustrating as you may face some resistance from various people across multiple divisions within the fire serve (upper administration, unions, and sometimes firefighters themselves).

    Secondly, I gained a greater appreciation for the importance of communicating and listening to the people you are working with. This is something I did not really ever learn the hard way as I came in right from the start wanting to learn as much as possible about the people I was working with from the people themselves (especially not having been a firefighter myself). 
    However, I have seen others go into situations as a conditioning subject area professional, not a tactical strength and conditioning coach. Just as you would for any athletic team, you have to get to know who you are working with and what their individual needs are otherwise getting that “buy-in” will be very challenging (and I think a little unprofessional).

    7. What recommendations would you give someone who is looking to start a career in TSAC?

    Volunteer your time through internships and other networking opportunities (e.g., as college students – helping with research being conducted by faculty and attending conferences) wherever you can to gain experience in the field and expand your networking into the tactical community.

    Don’t be afraid to make the first move! Approach departments or agencies about volunteering your time and get your foot in the door. This could be your local agencies and/or those that you connect with through other networking opportunities such as conferences. 
    Also keep an eye out on job sites for strength and conditioning and fitness director positions with tactical agencies and departments (fire service, law enforcement, and military), but bear in mind that they absolutely want trainers that have experience and can relate to the population they will be training so get a foundation of training experience/certifications that will best prepare you for working with these groups..

    8. What do you believe are the top three physical requirements for this population that must be addressed in a proper TSAC program?

    In wildland firefighting it may depend upon which specific crew you are training (hotshots vs. smokejumpers vs. hand crews, etc.), this is why a needs analysis is so important! For example, a hotshot crew may focus on muscular strength and endurance, as well as joint stability given the need to carry equipment, the repetitive movements necessary with swinging or operating various pieces of equipment, and the consequent risk of overuse injury. Aerobic endurance is also imperative for these crews given the amount of loaded walking that may be needed on a given assignment.

    9. What steps do you go through when writing a program for the population you work with?

    First and foremost, a needs analysis – not just the biomechanical, metabolic, and injury risk reduction needs, but evaluation of what is available to you equipment wise (for testing and training), and personnel resources. Is there a strength and conditioning coach on staff within the department or are there peer fitness trainers available and willing to work on program development with their peers?  
    I feel that this and equipment availability are often the most overlooked components of a needs analysis. In the perfect world, you would be able to design an optimal program that is guided by TSAC professionals and has any and all equipment. But this is not always the case, sometimes only several benches and free weight exercises supplemented by a comprehensive bodyweight program is the most feasible option. Another important component is getting regular feedback from participants on their progress and how challenging they feel the program is, especially if someone is not overseeing the everyday implementation of the program..

    10. What are some critical factors in getting tactical athletes to buy into a strength and conditioning program?

    I think one of the most important points is how you sell the importance of a strength and conditioning program. Listen to the firefighters who will be engaging in the program – how will it benefit them? Consider the manner in which your selling points are communicated – are you trying to improve job performance or improve their ability to cope with the physical and psychological demands as well as the health risks of the job?

    Make it feasible with current resources (needs analysis should help identify facilitating factors and limitations).

    Encourage flexibility in your program design while keeping the program challenging enough to maintain adherence and meet training goals. For instance if dumbbells do not exceed 50 lb, then come up with other movements/exercises that progress program other than adding weight!
  • Disclaimer: The National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) encourages the exchange of diverse opinions. The ideas, comments, and materials presented herein do not necessarily reflect the NSCA’s official position on an issue. The NSCA assumes no responsibility for any statements made by authors, whether as fact, opinion, or otherwise. 
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