Mid-Atlantic Rescue Systems, Inc.

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The “Heart” of the Matter... Is Physical Fitness in The Forefront of Your Department?

Each Year we review those all too familiar statistics reaffirming that the number one cause of premature death in the Fire Service is Heart disease. It’s always alarming – yet never a surprise. Although more and more Departments are implementing Fitness and Wellness Programs, the reports continue to come. I am thrilled with the growth of Physical Training that continues within the Fire Service. That being said, I can’t help but ask – “Are we doing enough?” I am continually met with responses like “you can lead a horse to water – but you can’t make ‘em drink”. I know all the limitations legally and otherwise, that sometimes prohibit just how much we are able to require. So being my stubborn self, I just have to ask – “if we can’t make ‘em drink, maybe it’s the “leading to water” part that needs a bigger push. We need to ask ourselves, are we doing enough leading?

Yes, the opportunities to get and stay Fit (and Well) within the Fire Service are more available than ever. That’s great news. Now look within your department and see what percentage of your membership is taking advantage of what’s provided. Additionally – which sector of your Department is participating in your Fitness Program? Are the services being utilized by those members who need it most? Conversely, is it predominantly being utilized by the healthiest and most fit individuals who would be physically active regardless of whether a Department Program was present?

I’ve written numerous times about “no exerciser left behind”. Is your department doing all it can to reach out to those who have the greatest need? Unfortunately, it’s quite possible we have gotten caught up in the legal aspect and approached Fitness as “legally we have to provide it…it’s up to each individual whether or not they choose to take advantage of it.” Hey, I get it. I truly do. Again, I am not suggesting we “mandate or make it happen”. I am, however; suggesting that we do more to present the opportunities making it as accessible and doable to all individuals at all times.

Fitness is often an entity of opportunity. I have found that striking while the iron is hot is a key factor in participation and continued compliance. Often the Department work I do is performed on an annual basis. Medical Clearance is obtained annually, along with Fitness Assessment and Exercise Prescription. That is a Great thing. It was a long time coming and I am grateful for the progress that led to its establishment. This process has reached many and the programs continue to grow.

To bring this forward to reach more and more members (especially those in need) we have to do things to keep Physical Fitness (Wellness) in the forefront all year long. We do provide Fitness Assessments and Exercise Prescriptions periodically to catch those who may have resisted or have fallen through the cracks at year’s onset. This is done at the member’s request. It certainly helps, but I believe we need to do more. Here are just a few ways that I continue to recommend in order to keep Fitness in the Forefront.

UTILIZE YOUR NEWSLETTER - Add a Fitness Section to your Newsletter. If you don’t already have a Newsletter, put together some Fitness Facts and distribute it monthly. Remember to include information regarding how to get started in the Department Physical Fitness Program for those who are not yet participating.

UTILIZE YOUR WEBSITE - devote a section on your website to Fitness. If possible make it interactive so that personnel have a place to go and exchange information. Again – post dates and times that Fitness Assessments, Orientations and Exercise Prescriptions will be available.

UTILIZE YOUR MEETINGS, CLASSES AND DRILLS - Occasionally, begin scheduled meetings with a group warm-up and stretch or at the very least a short presentation on Physical Fitness and its importance in the Fire Service. It can be as simple as providing a single fact/statistic or tip. You already have a group assembled; make it an opportunity to get information out or a message across. Did you stir some interest? Announce how and when members can get additional training.

UTILIZE YOUR BULLETIN BOARD – Post Fitness Tips, exercise suggestions or interesting statistics to keep Fitness in the forefront of the minds of your members/personnel. You can use humor/cartoons or go the more serious route with Firefighter Death and Injury reports. Once again I urge you to post dates and schedules of Fitness activities so everyone is in the loop.

PROVIDE WORKSHOPS – schedule a workshop provided by a Fitness Professional where members can gain Fitness and Wellness knowledge as well as practical experience.

ORGANIZE WEEKLY GROUP WORKOUTS – schedule weekly workouts – even if it is just an outdoor walk with or without Gear.

PROVIDE NUTRITIONAL COUNSELING – proper nutrition is a key component to any Fitness/Wellness program. Schedule a session with a Registered Dietician to provide important usable information to help your members/personnel understand and adopt good dietary habits.

INCORPORATE SMOKING CESSATION – quitting smoking is one of the single most important steps an individual can take to avoid premature death due to cardiovascular disease. Since Heart attacks are the leading cause of premature death in The Fire Service. Why not offer a smoking cessation program?

Keeping Fitness in the forefront will help to get more and more of your members in action. The desire to get fit can strike at anytime, but if members are forced to wait till the beginning of the year to get involved, they can easily lose interest before they even get started. When Physical Fitness is highlighted in your Newsletter and on your Bulletin Board it is more present among your membership. Giving Physical Fitness a home on your website or regular mention at your monthly meetings will keep it ever present.

So – “Yes we can lead a horse to water, but we can’t make ‘em drink” – but we sure can do a better job at leading and leading and leading! If it means we lose less of our Firefighters, Our Family and Our Friends it is surely worth the effort. Okay – so now let’s all get going – let’s go workout – and why not bring somebody with us? Good Luck & Stay Safe!

Remember to have your physician’s approval before beginning any exercise program.

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Lori Ann HodgkinsonSenior Correspondent

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