Fire Headlines Podcast Icon - Health

Firefighter Fitness Development

April 24, 2023


A sports science collaboration between Mayo Clinic Health System and the La Crosse, WI, Fire Department is using technology-based systems to test each firefighter’s mobility and establish an optimized, personalized exercise regime to improve strength and stamina. While firefighting requires physical fitness and endurance, what physical fitness looks like for an individual can vary. Guest expert Dr. Kelly Morgan shares her insight into the important parts of fitness, body composition measurement, and tailored training regimens.

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Hear how firefighters can explore and develop tailored fitness routines on the latest episode of Fire Headlines by the Western Fire Chiefs Association (WFCA).

Optimal Firefighting Fitness

Firefighters are trained to work in physically challenging situations, but many different body types are able to perform the work, and they have a range of abilities to support each other during an emergency. Dr. Morgan explains, “If we start thinking about the job in terms of sport and in terms of the amount of athletic ability it takes to do the job […] we can figure out how to tailor our exercise prescription plans to fit the needs, depending on the job that you’re doing.”

Along with physical strength and speed, air management is also a key priority in fighting fires. Last year, the Mayo Clinic evaluated the fire team’s performance in an air management course. They worked to quantify the physiological demands of some of the firefighters activities and reported that training the heart and lungs should be a priority in designing workouts that help keep firefighters safe. Jeff says, “We want more physically adapted firefighters. We want them to be more agile, we want them to have better endurance and all these great things that this technology is working toward.”

Body Composition Over BMI

Firefighting requires strength, but Bob says, “I don’t think there’s one body type or one approach to being able to do this.” Dr. Morgan addresses the fact that the Body Mass Index (BMI) chart is not the best measure of personal health. She instead considers body composition a better measure to determine fitness and health for individuals, as it accounts for muscle and bone density instead of just assessing weight-to-height ratios.

Fitness and Safety

Firefighter safety is at the root of why physical fitness is a priority in the fire service industry. Bob Horton says that you can “go into any fire department across the United States, ask them what their number one priority is, and you’re gonna hear, ‘The firefighters’ safety.’ We teach that mantra from the day you start in the fire academy—to worry about your safety. The responsibility for wellness comes at the top—this idea of safety. How [to] get yourself prepared physically to do the job of a firefighter, to keep yourself out of some longer-term health issues.”

It is also important to address personal responsibility to maintain physical fitness. Jeff Buchanan talks about avoiding physical therapy because “I wanted to just get back in the fire, like all firefighters do! […] The problem is, if they don’t think about their health and safety, they go down in a fire, they could impede or put other people in danger trying to save them.” Rehabilitation is an important resource to keep firefighters safe.

You can email Fire Headlines at [email protected].

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