What makes us fit for duty? Training.
What training are we referring to? Tasks used to perform our job. Whether it be a technical rescue, hazmat knowledge, ARFF, district familiarization or countless other avenues, as firefighters we are called upon to know an extremely wide range of skills to perform our duties and go home at the end of our shifts.
While this knowledge is part of the necessary tools needed to perform, almost half of our brothers and sisters who pay the ultimate price do so because of overexertion. When called upon to fight fires, it takes an enormous amount of physical exertion to do our job, yet we aren’t physically training for the arduous tasks we will probably encounter.
That’s where Firefit Firefighter Fitness Trainer comes in. This machine mimics the most strenuous of fireground activities in a compact unit that will fit in the corner of most fire station truck rooms. In some cases, departments are replacing the cumbersome entrance exam equipment with Firefit. It’s turn key, requires virtually no set up and is modeled after the CPAT, with a couple of exceptions of course. Just drag the machine from the truck room to the station apron, or use it inside if you have the space for it.
Firefit was created and tested by Randy Johnson, a 14 yr firefighter in the Texas Panhandle, 13 of those as a career firefighter. His personal results while doing a six-week testing program were nothing short of phenomenal. Starting with his heart rate, Day 1 resting heart rate was 66, working HR in the 180’s and recovery time to resting was 14 minutes. His body fat was 22%. Weight was 202. After six weeks using Firefit as his only training, and only on duty for a total usage of 15 times, his HR was in the 150’s during the workout; recovery time dropped to 4.5 minutes! Randy lost 7 lbs, gained back 2 (probably muscle), and lost 4% bodyfat.
While these results are amazing in themselves, the reason for the creation of Firefit, according to Randy, is to reduce the number of names we put on the wall in Colorado Springs and Emmitsburg every September and October, respectively. After all, isn’t that the goal and why we train to be the best at what we do?
Secret Signs of Hidden Depression
People who suffer from secret or concealed depression usually do not want to acknowledge how serious their feelings are. They often put on a “happy face” for others so they do not feel judged. Click HERE to find out what the six signs of concealed depression are.
Depression is a mood disorder that causes a constant feeling of sadness, hopelessness, anger, and loss of interest in everyday life for a long period of time. The exact cause of depression is unknown, however, many researchers believe that depression is caused by chemical imbalances in the brain. Norepinephrine, seratonin and dopamine are neurotransmitters (chemical messengers that transmit electrical signals between brain cells) thought to be involved with major depression. It is believed that there is an increased risk for developing depression if there is a family history of the illness. However, people who do not have a family history of depression can still develop this mood disorder.
About 19 million Americans battle depression annually. Depression is estimated to contribute to half of all suicides. About 5%-10% of women and 2%-5% of men will experience at least one major depressive episode during their adult life. Depression affects people of all races, incomes, ages, and ethnic and religious backgrounds, but it is three to five times more common in the elderly than in young people.
“Some types of depression seem to run in families”
Causes, incidence, and risk factors:
Certain personality traits such as low self-esteem, physical or sexual abuse, financial issues, and the death of a loved one can often times trigger depression in some people. While it has long been believed that depression caused people to misuse alcohol and drugs in an attempt to make themselves feel better (self-medication), it is now thought that substance abuse can actually cause depression. Some illnesses such as heart disease, cancer, and certain medications may also trigger depressive episodes. It is also important to note that many depressive episodes occur spontaneously and are not triggered by a life crisis, physical illness or other risks.
There is no single cause of major depression. Psychological, biological and environmental factors may all contribute to its development. Whatever the specific causes of depression, scientific research has firmly established that major depression is a biological, medical illness.
A number of factors can play a role in depression:
- Life events or situations, such as: Breaking up with a significant other, illness or death in the family, or parents divorcing (for adolescents)
- Repetitive traumatic calls
- Childhood events, such as abuse or neglect
- Divorce, death of a friend or relative, or loss of a job (for adults)
- Social isolation (common in the elderly)
- Medical conditions such as hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid), medications (such as sedatives and high blood pressure medications), cancer, major illness, or prolonged pain
- Sleeping problems, Sleep deprivation
- Alcohol or drug abuse
- Agitation, restlessness, and irritability
- Dramatic change in appetite, often with weight gain or loss
- Extreme difficulty concentrating
- Fatigue and lack of energy
- Feelings of hopelessness and helplessness
- Feelings of worthlessness, self-hate, and inappropriate guilt
- Inactivity and withdrawal from usual activities, a loss of interest or pleasure in activities that were once enjoyed (such as sex)
- Thoughts of death or suicide
- Trouble sleeping or excessive sleeping
- Depression can appear as anger and discouragement, rather than as feelings of hopelessness and helplessness. Use of alcohol or illegal substances may be more likely to occur.
- Even Medicines that you take for other problems could cause or worsen depression, check with your doctor.
- Medicines that you take for other problems could cause or worsen depression. You may need to change them. DO NOT change or stop taking any of your medications without consulting your doctor.
- People who are so severely depressed that they are unable to function, or who are suicidal and cannot be safely cared for in the community may need to be treated in a psychiatric hospital.
- Most people benefit from antidepressant drug therapy, along with psychotherapy. As treatment takes effect, negative thinking diminishes. It takes time to feel better, but there are usually day-to-day improvements.
- Antidepressant medications work by increasing the availability of neurotransmitters or by changing the sensitivity of the receptors for these chemical messengers.
- Take medications correctly and learn how to manage side effects.
- Learn to watch for early signs that depression is becoming worse and know how to react when it does.
- Try to exercise more, seek out other activities that bring you pleasure, and maintain good sleep habits.
- Avoid alcohol and illegal drugs. These substances can make the depression worse over time, and may also impair your judgment about suicide.
- When struggling with your depression, talk to someone you trust about how you are feeling. Try to be around people who are caring and positive.
- Try volunteering or getting involved in group activities.
“therapy teaches depressed people ways of fighting negative thoughts”
Types of help (See also Types of Counseling)
- Cognitive behavioral therapy teaches depressed people ways of fighting negative thoughts. People can learn to be more aware of their symptoms, learn what seems to make depression worse, and learn problem-solving skills.
- Psychotherapy can help someone with depression understand the issues that may be behind their behaviors, thoughts, and feelings.
- Joining a support group of people who are experiencing problems like yours can also help. Ask your therapist or doctor for a recommendation.
You can take a personal assessment here.
As though getting a solid night sleep wasn’t challenging enough for you while on shift, now we have proof that firefighters are at greater risk of suffering from some type of sleep disorders that makes it even worse. The result of a study on 7,000 firefighters nationwide was released in 2015 reporting that 37% of firefighters suffer from some sleep disorders such as Circadian Rhythm Sleep-Wake Disorder, sleep apnea and chronic sleep restriction (Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, 2015).
Let’s look at what some of these sleep disorders look like for your body. Circadian Rhythm Sleep-Wake Disorder means your body clock is constantly out of whack because your sleep/awake cycle is forever changing as the calls come in and as your work shift changes. Your body lives in this constant cycle where it knows that it needs to be alert the second that a call comes in, even if you are sleeping.
Sleep apnea is where your breath is pausing while you are sleeping, this can happen for seconds or minutes at a time. You stop breathing while you are sleeping and then your body recognizes what is happening and jolts you out of it through a loud snort or choking sound, so you start breathing again. After that, you continue to breathe as normal until the next time it happens throughout the course of your sleep cycle. Even though this can occur on average of 30 times a night, you generally don’t even register that you’re choked into breathing again. If you are sharing a bed or sleeping space with someone, they are probably more aware that it is happening than you are.
Just as someone in your sleeping space is probably aware if you suffer from sleep apnea, they are also probably very aware if you are snoring. Snoring is actually a sign that you might be suffering from sleep apnea because snoring can indicate that there is an obstruction of the airway and the air has to squeeze by to get in and out. The 2015 study mentioned above identified that 28.4% of firefighters have sleep apnea. That is a pretty high number compared to the 5% of the US population that has it (Statistic Brain Research Institute, 2016). It’s pretty safe to say that some attention needs to be given in this area for firefighters.
Chronic sleep restriction is just as it sounds; your sleep is restricted due to the nature of the job. You tend not to get the full amount of sleep needed in one stint of time for your body to go through the process of repair because you are consistently being awoken to respond to an emergency. Adults need on average of 8 hours of sleep a day to fully repair the body. How often does it happen that you get 8 hours of solid sleep, without interruption?
So how do you know if you have a sleep disorder?
It might be time to figure out if you have a sleep disorder. Do you wake up feeling groggy or with a sore throat like you were snoring all night long? Maybe you suffer from a sleep disorder and don’t even know it. You can take this self-assessment here and see what your results are: http://www.usc.edu/programs/cwfl/assets/pdf/sleep_test.pdf or you could just ask anyone at the station, and they will probably tell you just how badly you snore, that is if they can hear you over their snoring.
What do I do about it?
Just because you might suffer from one of these sleep disorders, doesn’t necessarily mean you are going to have to sleep with one of those machines over your mouth and nose that makes you sound like Darth Vader when he is breathing, there are other treatments available and some you can even do on your own. I am going to give you a few options to try, but you should still see a doctor to dig a little deeper into the problem.
If you have a few extra pounds hanging around from the winter, or maybe even last winter, work on losing them. Not only does that help with your sleep apnea but it reduces your risk for heart disease too. So try just 30 minutes of exercise a day, this exercise does not include throwing on your gear and blazing your way into a burning building. You need actual planned cardio; your body will thank you.
Another option can be to change the position you sleep, try not to sleep on your back. There are plenty of new memory foam pillows out there now that can help you sleep in positions to support your head and neck for better breathing. So get online and order one, well maybe order two, one for the station and one for those occasional nights at home in your bed.
Sometimes your mind can get in the way of letting you fall asleep and stay asleep, and this can lead to sleep disorders. Meditation can help; I’m not saying you need to sit on a pillow with your legs crossed chanting umms. Meditation is as simple as finding a quiet space for 10-15 minutes and focusing on your breathing. Once you are in a space, find a comfortable way to sit. Close your eyes and take deep breaths in and out, focus on each breath you take. Focus on the feeling of the air coming into your lungs and out of your lungs. Breathe in for a count of ten and then exhale for a count of ten, emptying your mind of any thoughts except for the feeling of air entering and exiting your lungs. Just try it for 5 minutes and work your way up to more time. Once you are getting the hang of it, there are so many resources online if you search for Meditation or Mindfulness that can guide you even further.
If you think that you might have a sleep disorder, you should still schedule an appointment with your doctor to make sure there isn’t something worse going on. They can also help offer other methods of treatment. Failing to sleep soundly can be the beginning of even greater issues such as heart disease, obesity, a weakened immune system, memory loss and increased risk of death. You owe it to yourself, the firefighters at your station and your loved ones to take care of yourself.
Inspired at 72 to Start a New Venture
In the Introduction, I wrote of the unexpected vision for returning to work on a full time basis in January of 2012. I had been forced to retire from full time ministry due to getting stints for clogged arteries in January 2007. I had no energy to do any work of ministry because of constant lethargy. On March 6, 2009 a retirement party was held for my benefit. I reluctantly accepted my fate.
I suspected all along that the reason for the extreme lethargy was the 30 – 60 extra pounds on my body. Suffice it to say here that I was very unhappy after a lifetime of busy activity to find myself unable to put one foot in front of the other to do much of anything. In 2010 and 2011 I began to have success with weight loss and feeling energy to return to work. I made several attempts to restart my professional career.
These efforts to return to work did not seem to be productive or fulfilling so I had finally accepted that retirement was my lot in life and I was content. I clung closely, however, to my part time volunteer position as Fire Chaplain and the hope that the Lord might call me to do more specific additional work for Him. Accepting retirement as my lot in life was made easier by my active participation as
Chaplain. The experiences in the Fire House as Chaplain were the greatest satisfaction of my life and that was the background leading to the dramatic vision to start a web site in January 2012. I believe the inspiration to establish the website came to me from God. It was very dramatic how a clear vision came to me in a short span of 2 1/2 hours while driving to St. Augustine Florida for a weekend. It is very important for me to be straight with you and to tell you why I started to work
again full time at 72 on a website directed to firefighters who have issues with weight. To start with, I think that my deepest motive for moving forward with the vision and making the commitment to return to work on a full time schedule was the opportunity to support firefighters.
At the same time, I was motivated to keep my own commitment to finally do whatever was necessary with food in my own life and to maintain my weight and health. When you read the next chapter of this booklet you you will understand that Chappy has a long history of struggles with weight and obesity. Even today, while I am enjoying a wonderful vacation in New Hampshire and typing the first draft for this booklet, I am still struggling with my food choices. Essentially, I admit that I have made the decision to suspend all of my normal discipline with diet and food choices and to give myself a food plan vacation. I am sure that there will be consequences for those choices and that there will be weight gain when I get on the scale upon my return home in just a few days. So, there it is! I have put my finger on an important motive for establishing Supporting Fire Fighters Inc. I believe that, if I will commit myself to encouraging firefighters to fight the fight with weight issues, I will have a better chance to maintain a reasonable weight. And so, much of my motive is selfish. But, on the other hand, I believe that there is no more noble task that I could commit myself to than supporting my brothers and sisters in the Fire Service. Just think about this for a minute. Every time we firefighters agree to serve the general public we agree to risk our lives for others. We unselfishly say that we are willing to risk our lives to save life and property. I have come to believe passionately that the finest men and women in our land are accepting this call to duty.
However, I also know that many of us struggle mightily with weight issues. In my own life I am constantly confronted with my struggle to maintain a good weight as I am now here on vacation. So, it is my strongest hope that God has called me to this expansion of my Chaplain’s ministry to a new mission field: to encourage firefighters with weight issues. Being very realistic, it is almost impossible for us to overcome this problem by ourselves. However, I believe that we can together make progress toward a reasonable weight and fitness status and thereby be better equipped to do our work. It has been three years since the initial vision to initiate a web site. During that time I have been sharing my desire to support firefighters with weight and obesity with 20 or more Chiefs and Command Officers in six states and the District of Columbia. The investigation has led to the formation of a non profit corporation, the completion of a web site and Facebook page and the initiation of “In Station” training in support of the objective. Now, I would be remiss not to add one other important dimension to the issue of maintaining a healthy weight and fitness and that is the spiritual dimension. It is my job as Chaplain to come along side my brothers and sisters in the fire service. I am fully aware that, as a person with weight issues, it is impossible for me to help myself in my own strength. I have proven conclusively to myself that I do not have the will power. So, it is my personal hope that my decision to serve will open opportunity for me to grow spiritually and to grow as a Chaplain for the rest of my days
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder that can occur after someone experiences a traumatic event that caused intense fear, helplessness, or horror. PTSD can result from personally experienced traumas (e.g., rape, war, natural disasters, abuse, serious accidents, and captivity) or from the witnessing or learning of a violent or tragic event.
- While it is common to experience a brief state of anxiety or depression after such occurrences, people with PTSD continually re-experience the traumatic event; avoid individuals, thoughts, or situations associated with the event; and have symptoms of excessive emotions.
- People with this disorder have these symptoms for longer than one month and cannot function as well as they did before the traumatic event.
- PTSD symptoms usually appear within three months of the traumatic experience; however, they sometimes occur months or even years later.
Although the symptoms for individuals with PTSD can vary considerably, they generally fall into three categories:
– Individuals with PTSD often experience recurrent and intrusive recollections of and/or nightmares about the stressful event. Some may experience flashbacks, hallucinations, or other vivid feelings of the event happening again. Others experience great psychological or physiological distress when certain things (objects, situations, etc.) remind them of the event.
– Many with PTSD will persistently avoid things that remind them of the traumatic event. This can result in avoiding everything from thoughts, feelings, or conversations associated with the incident to activities, places, or people that cause them to recall the event. In others there may be a general lack of responsiveness signaled by an inability to recall aspects of the trauma, a decreased interest in formerly important activities, a feeling of detachment from others, a limited range of emotion, and/or feelings of hopelessness about the future.
– Symptoms in this area may include difficulty falling or staying asleep, irritability or outbursts of anger, difficulty concentrating, becoming very alert or watchful, and/or jumpiness or being easily startled.
Risk Factors for Firefighters
A few studies have also looked at what factors might put firefighters at greater risk for the development of PTSD. A number of risk factors for PTSD among firefighters have been identified. These include:
- Being previously in treatment for another disorder.
- Starting work as a firefighter at a younger age.
- Being unmarried
- Holding a supervisory rank in the fire service.
- Proximity to death during a traumatic event.
- Experiencing feelings of fear and horror during a traumatic event.
- Experiencing another stressful event (for example, loss of a loved one) after a traumatic event.
- Holding negative beliefs about oneself (for example, feeling as though you are inadequate or weak).
- Feeling as though you have little control over your life.
Protective Factors for Firefighters
- Even though firefighters might be at high risk for stress as a result of their jobs, it is important to point out that most firefighters will not develop PTSD. In fact, several factors have been identified that may reduce the likelihood of developing PTSD among firefighters after the experience of multiple traumatic events.
- One of the most important protective factors found was having social support available either at home or through work.
- In addition, it has also been found that having effective coping strategies available may lessen the impact of experiencing multiple traumatic events.
- This is not surprising in that, among people in general, the availability of social support and effective coping strategies have consistently been found to reduce the risk for developing PTSD following a traumatic event.
For Information on Treatment Please visit FireStrong.org
To learn what Fire Strong is all about check out their introduction here