• Hot Topic: Enhancing Physical Fitness in the Fire Service - A Novel Approach to Exercise Training
    A common barrier to facilitating physical activity is a lack of available exercise equipment at the fire station. This Hot Topic introduces a novel approach to exercise training at the fire station utilizing firefighter equipment (e.g., fire hoses, ladders, etc.).
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    Firefighting is a strenuous profession that requires sufficient physical fitness levels (3,4). To achieve optimal physical fitness levels firefighters must exercise on a regular basis. However, the literature on this topic indicates that many firefighters do not exercise regularly (2,6). To that end, firefighters have reported numerous barriers to participation in exercise programs while on duty (7).

    Overcoming Barriers to Physical Activity
    One such barrier is a lack of available exercise equipment at the fire station. Although availability of exercise equipment is a legitimate barrier, firefighter equipment can be used as a form of external resistance to supplement an exercise program, therefore reducing the reliance on traditional exercise equipment.

    Thus, the purpose of this Hot Topic is to introduce a novel approach to exercise training at the fire station utilizing firefighter equipment (e.g., fire hoses, ladders, etc.). Specifically, this Hot Topic will review empirical data demonstrating the effectiveness of this program, describe how this method can be implemented as part of a circuit training program, discuss the advantages of using this training method, and present a sample exercise program.

    Study-Based Results of a Firefighter-Specific Training Program
    The ability of this novel training program to improve firefighter fitness and occupational performance was recently evaluated in a research study (5). Specifically, the investigation evaluated the efficacy of a 12-week circuit-based training intervention in firefighters that primarily utilized fire service tools and apparatus. Firefighters trained two days per week for 60 min per exercise session.

    The results of this study indicated that the novel training program improved the firefighters’ aerobic capacity, body mass index (BMI), and performance on a simulated fire ground test (5). The training program was periodized into three 4-week mesocycles (Table 1). A linear increase in intensity was accomplished by altering work-to-rest ratios and gradually incorporating structural firefighting gear into the exercise program.    

    Aptil Hot Topic - Table 1  

    Table 1. Sample of a Periodized Exercise Program with Firefighter Equipment

    Upon completion of the 12-week program, all firefighters performed functional exercises with firefighter equipment while wearing full structural firefighting gear and a self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA). In addition, firefighters completed 20 min of aerobic or anaerobic training in normal exercise clothing. In addition to the quantitative data collected, the authors noted the following comments from the study’s participants:

    “I didn’t think this would actually be fun, but it really isn’t that bad.”

    “I can feel a big difference only after a few weeks.”

    “I didn’t think I could push myself this hard, but I can.”

    The fire equipment utilized during the exercise intervention consisted of ground ladders of various lengths, multiple diameter hoses, class-A foam buckets, SCBAs (Self-Containing Breathing Apparatus), and structural firefighting gear (Table 2 provides a summary of these exercises). Ground ladders of 24 and 35 ft were used to simulate the following exercises: shoulder press, bent-over row, and a squat-to-shoulder press movement.      

    April Hot Topic - Table 2   

    Table 2. Exercises and Firefighter Equipment Utilized during the Program 

    Note: It is important to note that this is not meant to be an exclusive list of exercises. Additional exercises may be performed as long as they are ergonomically correct and do not utilize contraindicated positions.

    Small (1.75 and 2.5 in.) and large diameter (5.0 in.) hoses were used to simulate the following exercises: hose roll swing and hose undulation. Hose rolls were also utilized to add additional weight to body squats, wall sits, and upright rows. Class-A foam buckets that weighed approximately 45 lb provided additional resistance to the farmer’s carry, overhead press, deadlift, and upright row exercises.

    Each exercise was performed with fire equipment that added resistance, improved fitness outcomes, and enhanced familiarity with the equipment, and translated into improved job performance.

    Looking to Circuit Training
    Various types of training programs can be implemented with firefighter equipment. Circuit training with firefighter equipment may be best suited for enhancing muscular endurance and cardiovascular endurance given the inability to modify the weight of many pieces of equipment (e.g., SCBA).

    Circuit training (with firefighter equipment) has been reported to be an appropriate training method as it places similar physiological demands on the body when compared to on-the-job firefighting tasks (1). Logistically, several pieces of equipment can be arranged within a fire station bay or outside to allow for multiple firefighters to exercise simultaneously. Furthermore, utilizing circuit training where a group of firefighters exercise together may foster a “team-based” atmosphere, which is a critical concept within the fire service.

    Finally, circuit training can be used to train a group of firefighters with various levels of fitness by personalizing the intensity, volume, recovery period, and exercise progression based on fitness level and training status. For example, a beginner lifter should do fewer repetitions, have a smaller work-to-rest ratio, and perform simple exercises; whereas an advanced lifter should do more repetitions, have a larger work-to-rest ratio, and perform complex exercises.

    Given the advantages of circuit training with firefighter equipment, it should be noted that other forms of training (e.g., high-intensity cardiovascular training and heavy resistance training) are often necessary to maximize all physical fitness outcomes related to a firefighter’s physical ability (i.e., basic strength, power, cardiorespiratory endurance, etc.). Finally, as with any type of training, it is important that qualified personnel supervise firefighters while training with the equipment to ensure that proper technique is used to minimize risk of injury and damage to the equipment.

    Conducting exercise programs that utilize firefighter equipment has several advantages. First, the use of firefighter equipment may decrease the need for traditional fitness equipment and save the department’s money and valuable space within the fire station. Second, training with equipment that firefighters use on the job may optimize their familiarity with the equipment and enhance job performance. Finally, performing task-specific exercises with firefighter equipment may enhance functional performance (Table 2).

    In conclusion, firefighters should participate in a regular exercise program to prepare for the physical demands of the job. One of the primary barriers to exercise training while on duty is the lack of access to fitness equipment in the fire station. However, this Hot Topic indicates that firefighter equipment can be used in a regular exercise program to enhance physical fitness and functional performance. The functional performance of firefighters may be further enhanced through proper exercise prescription and the use of a qualified exercise specialist.

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    1. Abel, M, Mortara, A, and Pettitt, R. Evaluation of circuit-training intensity for firefighters. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 25(10): 2895–2901, Baur, DM, Christophi, CA, Tsismenakis, AJ, Cook, EF, and Kales, SN. Cardiorespiratory fitness predicts cardiovascular risk profiles in career firefighters. <em>Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine</em> 53(10): 1155-1160, 2011.
    2. Davis, PO, and Dotson, CO. Heart rate response of firefighters. Journal of Ambulatory Electrocardiology 1: 15-18, 1978.
    3. Elsner, K, and Kolkhorst, FW. Metabolic demands of simulated firefighting tasks. <em>Ergonomics</em> 51(9): 1418-1425, 2008.
    4. Pawlak, R, Clasey, J, Symons, B, and Abel, M. The Effect of Physical Training on Firefighter Fitness and Occupational Performance. University of Kentucky; 2012.
    5. Poston, WSC, Haddock, CK, Jahnke, SA, Jitnarin, N, Tuley, BC, and Kales, SN. The prevalence of overweight, obesity, and substandard fitness in a population-based firefighter cohort. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine 53: 266-274, 2011.
    6. Staley, J, Porto, J, Weiner, B, Linnan, L, Rogers, B, and Mebane, F. The Determinants of Firefighter Physical Fitness: An Inductive Inquiry into Firefighter Culture and Coronary Risk Salience. Proquest UMI Publishing; 2008.

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      My brother a career firefighter for a large city in CA reaped the benefits of an in station gym with an outdoor basketball court that was utilized at different times by each firefighter on every rotation. I live in the Midwest where volunteer firefightersmore» outnumber and outweigh their big city counterparts. What a unique and workable fitness program that lends itself to smaller rural departments where fitness is definitely not a priority.«less

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      Great article. As a former FF, I can attest that the best physical training is training that uses the actual equipment that we use.

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