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?
You know, this started out as a Facebook status, but I…I had to keep writing and adding to it.
You see, today (Monday 9/12/16 – the day after the 15 year anniversary of the twin tower attacks) I’m in the weight room. I’m cracked out on pre-workout, doing chest day. Slamming weight in silence; no headphones, no TV. Nothing. Just the weight.
Today, I have a lot on my mind. And I mean a lot.
This weekend I met firefighters from around the globe, I met rookies and chiefs. I met FDNY firemen. I met pipers and drummers.
Let me back up, Saturday the 10th was my 31st birthday. I also did the 911 Memorial Stair Climb in Dallas that day. That’s when my mind started this post.
On Sunday, I met Jeff Cool, FDNY “Black Sunday” survivor. I met John Walters, FDNY 9/11/01 survivor. I scaled another 110 floor stair climb in Ft Worth that was open to firefighters and anybody wanting to climb for a fallen military member or first responder.
Today, before I came to the gym, I learned of a fireman from my department that was a career fireman, and currently a volunteer, is in grave condition due to cancer.
This is where my mind is at; if you’re still here reading this, then thank you. I’m getting to the point soon, I promise.
There are millions of motivational fitness and fire service training quotes, articles, and pictures out there, but for firemen, there are two that I can think of.
One: Get fit and train for the people you serve.
Two: Get fit and train for the people that would do ANYTHING to be able to walk in your shoes again.
We owe it to the men and women in and out of the fire service to be as selfless as possible.
The fire service has never been about self, nor should it be, in my opinion. People asked, “Why are you doing two climbs? You’re crazy!”
I didn’t do it for me. I did it for those who can’t. I took names to the top of those towers that are deceased FDNY firefighters. I took names and memories of friends and family that are deceased or not physically able to climb.
A good friend’s father passed away awhile back, I wore his name on my helmet. I brought up memories of his pride in his son and his friendliness towards me in my heart. There’s many others that where in my heart as well. My grandfathers, grandmothers and so on…
The team from my dept took OUR (ownership…different article for another day) department name to the top in Dallas, while our department, short staffed, took a beating from 911 calls at home.
Sometimes we have to beat the hell out of our own bodies while we have the ability to do-so. We should do it for the people that’d love to be healthy enough to do it too.
At 0846 Tuesday September 11th, the United States took a hit on the north tower of the World Trade Center. At 0903 a second passenger airliner slammed into the south tower.
The Battalion Chief assigned to Battalion 1 witnessed the impact of the plane from the corner of Church and Lispenard Streets. He immediately signaled a second alarm and proceeded to the World Trade Center. En route, B1 requested additional resources by transmitting a third alarm at 8:48 a.m.
I was driving to school for the first time, the attacks happened the day after my 16th birthday. Anybody that has followed me personally on Station Pride knows I’m 4th generation. I was born into this. I’m bred to help people. Even as early as 1995 when I was 9 years old, I could feel the urge to help the victims of the Oklahoma City Federal Building bombing. I’ve had the desire to serve my entire life it feels like.
My story isn’t much different than many firefighters around the world. Almost all firefighters know when that switch flipped, they remember when they made that decision to pursue what I personally believe is the greatest career there is.
We watched TV the whole day at school on 9/11. I witnessed on national TV as the second plane turned and slammed into the building. It wasn’t until 2005 that my fire service career started, and when it started I was in the generation of firefighters that were labeled the “post 9/11 firefighters”. That label has driven me for years, to prove throughout my career thus far that I am in this for more than the firefighter title. I did not start this career to get the attention we all saw the FDNY receive after they lost so many brothers in one single incident. It has driven and motivated me for 10 years now.
In 2013 I found and decided to attempt the Dallas 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb. 110 floors, full gear and SCBA. Climbing with 343 firefighters, 70 police officers. It’s a humbling experience too because no matter how prepared you think are, it’s not enough. The stair climb starts early in the morning. Participants get to the staging area early, get signed in and then get unto their groups. It’s eerie quiet at first, at the base of the 55 floor building we’ll be climbing. As the crowd grows we all begin to either relax or our nerves make us start to get “loose” meeting fellow brother and sisters. A little closer to start time we dress in our gear, just like we do day in and day out but this time it’s different. This time it’s for a cause and it’s emotional. When it’s time we walk out of the staging area. We gather in the street at the base of the building and we listen to speakers, we pray, we say the pledge. We wave and take pictures. Then it starts.
The goosebumps hit, the nerves in your gut get a little worse and your eyes get a little wet. The group piles into a line, we circle in front of the stage the speakers were just on, make a left and then we have an opportunity to lay a hand on a piece of red iron from one of the towers. That water in your eyes get a little thicker, there’s a ball in your throat fighting for space with your heart in the same place, the pipes and drums still playing, right next to you. You can feel the drums in your chest.
As you pass the red iron from the tower you enter the building. That’s the last time most of the people there to support “their firefighter” will see them until the end. That’s when it hits you that you aren’t doing this for you, your climbing because they climbed. FDNY firefighters climbed and climbed, floor after floor helping people out of those towers. Climbing further to reach the floors in which they had no idea if there were survivors or not. Without hesitation and unselfishly they climbed. Knowing full well the dangers, knowing the structural integrity has been greatly reduced. They climbed to help people they have never met before, and may never see again after a few moments in a stairwell. They climbed to their death, doing a job that is in the heart of every firefighter.
“We climb because they climbed.”
Let me first start off by saying that I am no gym connoisseur. I have been back in the gym lately, and cannot help but notice the vast variety of people in there. I scan my eyes constantly when I am “in the zone” of sweat and pain. As I keep pushing myself through the threshold of soreness and wobbly legs, I try to think about other things so I can keep my mind off it. I can’t help but notice how the different types of people at the gym are ever so similar to the different types of people and attitudes in the fire service. But whats my point here? Well, I first thought was that we were all in the gym at the same time. We are all strangers to one another, but we seem to spend the same amount of time together, nearly every day. Just like at the firehouse, we are on a schedule. 3-7 nights a week, we all see each other and give the innocent head-bob as we walk past one another in the hallway between the Juice Bar and the free weights.
The Quiet Ones
The ones that come to the club, do what they have to do and go home. These types can be one of two different kinds. These are the group of people that could be the ones in the corner, trying to stay away from the stress in their life and are just wanting to relieve some of it by working out, even if it isn’t an incredibly hard workout. At least they can take their mind off of their daily tasks. Destress. Slow down for a little bit, and take care of their body so their body can take care of them. These types could be the ones that go to work, show up on time, collect a day’s pay, and go home. They could be that volunteer that shows up to monthly meetings and a couple of calls here and there but wants to be sure he has a T-Shirt to wear every day. By-golly, he sure does flash that badge when he has a meal at a local food joint. He earned that badge. He earned it by coming to the firehouse and calling himself a firefighter. They don’t speak to anyone because they have been publicly humiliated before. They want to avoid the confrontation or embarrassment if anyone calls them out again in front of the group.
They could also be the one that is extremely hell-bent about everything they do. They don’t go with a friend to the gym because their workout routine has no time for a friend. They don’t need anyone to keep them focussed. They don’t want anyone in their way when they have their heart rate up, and their testosterone is pumping. These are the guys that come to the firehouse and are some of the baddest-ass firemen that are out there. They are the ones busting their behinds out on the training ground and are the ones that are out in the bay doing their own combat challenge, no matter what the rest of the crew thinks of them. They know their job. They know their responsibilities without needing an order from the officer. They know what is expected of them when the Emergency Brake pops and they know they will get the job done. No matter what.
“Anything for them gains…” “Check out my abs…” “You see that girl over there?”
I laugh at some of the conversations I overhear. Especially when you get a couple or more guys working out together. It almost seems like these types spend more time talking than actually lifting anything. Standing around, huddled in a circle around the one person that is physically doing a set of reps. They stand there, flexing in the mirror, talking to each other about “that chick” in the yoga pants over there. I wish I had the time to actually see how much working out they were doing versus how much dialogue they were producing.
We all have heard the “talkers” at the firehouse. We all laugh as they are spewing out phrases to civilians or visitors like, “Real firemen wear leather helmets…” “I’ve seen so much fire in my time…” Blah blah blah…..I cringe when I hear someone acting a fool. I am almost embarrassed for them. I almost feel like they are a slow-motion train wreck, and I’m just sitting there watching it all unfold. I find it kind of funny that we can associate a group of dudes making a fool of themselves in the gym with a group of people that we all have in our own perspective departments. Trust me, you’re not the only one….we all have them.
They sure do try don’t they? These are the ones that no matter how hard they are working at it, they just can’t succeed and better themselves. They eat while they are lifting, or they are walking at the speed of fart. No matter how much time, effort, or money they put into their attempt at becoming better, it just doesn’t show or work out for them. They can have all the certifications in the world, but sometimes they are only as good as toilet paper. The ones that are trying so hard to get off their probation, but haven’t been able to since they can’t remember the required material. Or the ones that have been told time and time again to fix their actions, and become a better firefighter, but there’s just no hope. And my personal favorite….the fellas that are there for a selfie. “In front of the rowing machine!”…”Look at me, I’m working out!” “I’m a real firefighter now!” “Look at this house I’m standing in front of while an entire family lost everything!” Not cool. Pictures have their place….in front of devastation with a smile on your face is not it.
Some people are are just not cut out for this job.
And then there’s the meat heads. The over-the-top, crazy-ripped, not even a little bit easy on the eyes, deformed, testosterone injected, protein shaking, weight dropping, “Ooooiiiii” screaming, belt-wearing meat heads. They are the most intimidating/scary bunch in the gym. Just look at them! They walk around, wearing their spandex shorts, weight lifting sandals, and muscle tees. With their unnatural looking, chiseled muscles, and loud voices. They are clearly the ones that have spent the most time in the gym, or at least, look like they have. They DO have impersonators, though. The ones that would rather inject their muscles than work for them. We have all seen this when we have an intimidating officer, who has seen their fair share of “sh!t”, and have a grudge against anyone under them. The senior firefighter with more years on the job than the rookie has been walking this earth. They are not always bad, but some are more intimidating than others. You are afraid to piss them off because you’re not sure if they will make it a learning experience, or an embarrassing one. These are the guys that feel they don’t need to worry about re-racking their weights or doing station chores because they’ve served their time and have earned their spot. And as for impersonators? They are the ones that have taken all the classes, and have been an assumable/acting officer for all but three weeks, and are throwing orders around out like they’ve been doing it for 30 years.
All in all, we have all of these types of people in our departments. Some have more than others, but we all have seen some sort of this activity in the firehouse setting. I just wanted to share some of my thoughts as I spent my evening trying to better myself. I am not intending on hurting feelings, just sharing some thoughts. If I hurt some, hopefully, it’s not because you are one of the above groups.
All this seem a little harsh to you? Good. The “Participation Trophy” mentality is not welcome in the firehouse and titty babies can hit the bricks. You will not be missed by those brave few who fight on. I don’t care about your feelings, I care about your life, my brothers who ride the truck with you, and the citizens you are sworn to protect. If you can’t do your job you are useless to me. I’m not telling you that at 60 you have to have a sub 2:00 Firefighter Combat Challenge time. That’s stupid. I am telling you that despite your achy shoulders and old football injuries you have a physical potential that you are obligated to maintain. It’s a sliding scale that declines over time but if you still jump on the truck and other lives depend on you then you better learn to suck it up and do the right thing.
Mediocrity is a dangerous blight on the fire service. In volunteer and full-time departments alike, we accept mediocrity in our equipment, personnel and even in ourselves. Unfortunately, as a result, our brothers and sisters, families and community all suffer.
Low manpower is a large problem in a lot of rural volunteer departments. In some cases, they take what they can get, but is this always what’s best? In my opinion, a lack of firefighters is far better than a bad or dangerous one. Firefighters who don’t hold themselves to a standard, don’t train, or don’t think they should are far deadlier than the fires we are fighting.
The majority of our line of duty deaths in the fire service are result of this mediocrity at times. Our health not being a priority results in heart attack LODD’s. Not wearing our PPE as it was designed results in failures and deaths or injuries. Not wearing our seat belts on every call at all times can take a life on that one time it isn’t worn. Even a cultural attitude in your department can be detrimental. Having a “just deal with it/get over it” attitude can breed depression and other mental issues that can ultimately take over and even end a person’s life.
Holding ourselves and our brothers and sisters in the fire service accountable to the standards we should be at is key to ending the mediocrity.
Even at a low level in the department, you can create change by leading by example. It will take time, and it won’t be easy but it can be done. I myself am, by far, not the perfect firefighter, but as of today, I vow to better myself mentally and physically and hold myself to a standard that I should be at. I have a long ways to go, but it needs to be done. I will no longer accept myself in my current state as I am not in the best shape to help my community and support my brothers and sisters. Will you do the same?
Fitness. Diet. Mental Wellness.
Firefighter health and wellness is one of those topics that immediately turns off most readers. It’s not a fun topic to read about and for most people its hard to acknowledge our weaknesses. Likewise, trying to get firefighters to admit their weaknesses is nearly impossible.
Responding to car accidents, trauma victims, fires, destruction, disasters, untimely and timely deaths, blood, screaming, dire situations, rescues, shootings, stabbings, domestic, violence, toxic chemical spills… we handle it all. Each call takes a little piece of us without us even realizing it.
The average citizen would take the action of breaking a window as being extreme or performing CPR for the layperson would be a life changing experience, where for us, it’s all part of daily life on the job. There is a necessary tendency where we have to remove the emotion of the situation in order to mitigate it. Repeating that action over a career has the ability to produce adverse mental health consequences. Sometimes I think we’re just here to bare witness to the worst humanity has to offer and somehow deal with it.
Mental illness in firefighters should be an expectation instead of a rare or embarrassing occurrence. Granted we are a unique breed of people where we can accept the tragedies of the days events and go back to normal life, however, when coupled with the mental challenges of running calls, add in a careers worth of sleep deprivation, poor diet, inadequate exercise, family stress, anxiety leading to depression…and you get the picture. Each one, individually, can deliver an entire host of problems. Together it’s almost a guaranteed recipe for struggle.
As firefighters, we tend to mask , hide, or deny there is anything wrong with us. Some of us are affected more than others, while few, seemingly, aren’t affected at all. Mental illness is not a sign of weakness, it’s a sign that we have souls, a heart, and a conscience. At times in our life we could all use a guide map or directions.
Station Pride is taking the initiative to promote firefighter health and wellness. A cornerstone of taking pride in the fire service is to take pride in ourselves and each other. We all need to remove the stigma of mental health and obesity, address suicide prevention, PTSD support, and addiction assistance, while promoting positive mental health, physical fitness, and practical healthy eating.
Our initiative involves pulling together existing and amazing resources for firefighters to seek guidance or receive the assistance they may need. We will post regular wellness articles and content provided by FireStrong.org, Firefightersweightloss.com, and Tongs and Turnouts.
Please stay tuned and help Station Pride end the stigma of mental health while assisting brothers and sisters with weight-loss and diet change by making these topics a part of everyday firehouse conversation. It’s time we take the lead on changing the culture of our profession. It’s past time
Firestrong.org is an independently operated online resource for members of the Fire Service and their families. The mission of Firestrong is to offer mental, emotional, and physical support to each member of the fire department and their families by providing educational tools, resources, crisis intervention assistance (crisis line) and peer support services.
Most who participate in the profession start off fit and at least close to reasonable weight standards. Unfortunately, many gain weight and find it difficult or impossible to lose weight. They struggle to maintain enough fitness to pass whatever testing may be required for continued service. The emphasis for many is to “protect their right” to continue in the service.
Many give up hope that they can lose weight and place themselves at great risk because they are over weight or obese. Here at “FireFightersWeightLoss.com” we understand and have experienced the problem.
Tongs and Turnouts is an Facebook page operated by a firefighter/brother in Australia. They provide amazing meal ideas for the fire station. Give them a follow and try to incorporate some of their practical and healthy meals with your shift. Every fireman loves a good feed! This page is to help share ‘Firies’ love of good food, and recipes for/from station cook ups.