The Need for a Physical Fitness Program for Virginia Fire Departments
Fire fighters hold a special place within American society. They help keep our urban and rural landscapes safe from blazes of all kinds. Yet, even in a much more rigid bureaucratic environment, many firefighters within certain departments like here in Virginia failed to meet the physical standard that would provide the utmost level of safety. Although the physical requirements for entering the fire department are strenuous, the state of Virginia lacks a mandatory physical fitness program for its fire fighters that would ensure a continuous level of physical fitness and thus the highest level of performance in the most dangerous situations.
Significance of the Problem: Lack of Available Physical Fitness Programs
To think of an unfit fire fighter is an extremely dangerous problem. Currently, there is only an entry physical exam test (Virginia Department of Fire Programs, 2013). Once a candidate is actually brought on to the force, he or she does not have to show ongoing physical training to retain their job as a fire fighter with the state of Virginia. There is no ongoing mandatory physical fitness program that would require incumbent fire fighters to keep up with a rigorous physical training routine, despite the obvious physical demands of their job role. Unfortunately, "the lack of physical fitness problem begins in the firehouse, where firefighters may spend several sedentary hours watching television, sleeping, or even sitting around playing on the computer" (Calcagno, 2012). The issue here is that many fire fighters spent hours waiting for fire, and not physically training in order to perform their best when a fire does occur.
This does have a huge impact on the organization as a whole, but also on the community at large as well. Sedentary lifestyles can impact the health of the firefighters within the organization. According to the research, "over 59% of all on-duty firefighter fatalities in the United States in 2011 were caused by stress and/or overexertion which resulted in a heart attack" (Biddle & Bell, 2011). Physically inept fire fighters present a clear and obvious danger to society and to the firefighters themselves. The research clearly illustrates that unfit fire fighters can also cause danger to society. Thus, "If a firefighter goes down in a fire because he is not physically fit or because of pre-existing condition resulting from poor health, the rescuer is night victim, whose rescue will require important resources" (Calcagno, 2012). Unfit fire fighters cause more victims needing rescue in some of the most dangerous conditions.
It is the responsibility of the department to provide our fire fighters with the machines and programs necessary to stay physically fit in order to perform best on the job and to save lives. This means saving the lives of both civilians and of the firefighters themselves. What Virginia needs is a mandatory physical fitness program for fire fighters in order to keep them at the top of their game.
Improved Job Performance
Clearly, firefighters who are physically fit perform better in the most dangerous situations. There is a clear "correlation between physical fitness and improve job performance" (Calcagno, 2012). Those who have the physical strength and endurance because of constant physical training are often more adapt to saving lives and preventing injuries in danger situations in urban and rural fires. Physical training helps provide the discipline needed to physically be able to meet the extreme demands of the job. As such, "mental and physical strength enable a firefighter to stay focused on a given task and have the muscular endurance to complete it" (Calcagno, 2012). Firefighters are often exposed to extremely dangerous conditions on the drop of a dime. They need the physical training to keep their bodies ready at any moment. It is obvious that "going from a sound sleep to your prior rate within 3 minutes can put physical and emotional stress on anybody" (Calcagno, 2012). Ongoing physical fitness training helps keep the fire fighter's body in shape in order to prepare for extreme physical condition at any given moment.
Despite the many hours spent waiting to be called to a fire, it is absolutely crucial that firefighters remain in a state where they are physically ready at any moment to push their bodies to the maximum. There is no handbook for how a fire will turn out, thus fire fighters need to be physically ready for anything. This may mean straining muscles that are not normally used, or working harder than the average person for long extended periods of time. All fire fighters will see arduous and strenuous physical demands at some point in their careers, and they must be physically ready at any given moment to meet those increased demands. Here, the research explains:
"For a firefighter to give more than the average citizen, he must be physically strong enough to perform such tasks as rescuing victims, moving equipment, and advancing hose line much more easily. Muscular strength is defined as the maximum force the muscle or muscle group can exert," as such, it is important for firefighters to have strength training in order to have the muscular strength needed to perform the tasks of their dangerous duties (Calcagno, 2012)
Obviously, the better in shape the fire fighter, the better his or her performance will be under extreme conditions. In order to best provide for the safety of the community and the crucial members of the department, a physical fitness program is needed.
There are a number of recommendations in terms of tailoring physical fitness program for Virginia firefighters. The first to be discussed here is the notion of continuous strength training. According to the research, "strength is the ability of a muscle or muscle group to exert force to overcome the most resistance and one effort" (Calcagno, 2012). Strength training improves range of motion, physical capabilities, and also resistance to injury during those crucial moments where every second counts.
Strength training helps improve muscle and joint performance. This is absolutely key in situations where a daunting fire requires a fire fighter to go over and above the normal muscle functioning in order to save a life. As such, "although you cannot be trained for the situation specifically, maintaining your body in a state of physical readiness will help tremendously" (Calcagno, 2012). Strength training is a crucial element to any mandatory physical fitness program.
Additionally, endurance is a hue part of any fire fighter's job. Here, the research explains that "endurance is the ability of a muscle or muscle group to exert force to overcome a resistance many times and is usually measured by the amount of repetitions performed" (Calcagno, 2012). Without high levels of endurance, fire fighters are not able to respond to a fire at great lengths. Yet, a fire does not wait around for the fire fighters to catch their breath. Essentially. "a firefighter have to be smart and strong to get the job done and must be able to continuously perform work at a moderate to quick pace without stopping to rest for extended periods of time" (Calcagno, 2012). On average, incumbent fire fighters who have been on the job longer have clearly less endurance ratings than new recruits (Biddle & Bell, 2009). Obviously, there needs to be some kind of consistency in regards to the level of endurance fire fighters within the department show on duty.
One of the biggest health risks faced by fire fighters today is actually cardiovascular problems caused by a lack of constant physical training which is augmented by the sedentary lifestyle of waiting around for fires. Thus, it is clear that "the sedentary hours fire fighters may spend in the fire station may be as hazardous for them as fighting a fire" (Sherek, 2009). In cases across the country, fire fighters and trainees show clear signs of cardio vascular issues when even doing the simplest of training drills. In fact, in Virginia in 2009, a trainee died of complications resulting from cardiac arrest after participation in an entry-level fire fighter certification class (NIOSH, 2009). The training exercise was routine for Virginia fire fighter trainees, yet it proved too much for one individual. It is difficult to imagine if such a tragedy were to take place in an actual emergency, where the lives of other fire fighters and fire victims may have also been at risk because of the physical inability of one fire fighter. According to the research, "cardiovascular exercise improves the ability of the lungs to provide oxygen and the heart and vessels to supply blood to the tissues" (Sherek, 2009). Cardio exercise is crucial to helping keep fire fighters healthy at any stage of their lives. There needs to be mandatory regiments of cardio for every member of the service.
Set Schedules and State Wide Standardization
Mandatory programs will help set a set schedule for thousands of fire fighters across the state. The research discusses…