Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Are you FireFit?

By Bequi Livingston

Fitness is defined as, “the body’s ability to perform physical activity without distress or injury”. Although most people rarely engage in arduous physical activity as part of their daily jobs, wildland firefighters know that physical fitness plays an important role in our personal wellness and job performance. It’s a proven fact that by incorporating a balanced fitness program into our daily work life, we enhance our health and safety, while mitigating our risk of injury and illness and increasing our ability to do work safely.

Having said that, fitness continues to be one of the most important components of a balanced wellness program. Like it’s counterparts which include nutrition and stress management, fitness has a life of its own especially when if comes to the job performance of wildland firefighters. According to Dr. Brian Sharkey in his book, “Fitness and Work Capacity 2nd edition”, “for prolonged arduous work, fitness is the most important determinant of work capacity (the ability to accomplish production goals without undue fatigue, and without becoming a hazard to oneself or coworkers)”.

FireFit, an interagency wildland firefighter fitness program, was created with the intent to provide the interagency wildland fire community with a comprehensive, easy-to-follow, fitness program with the ultimate goal of improving firefighter safety and health and reducing injuries. This unique program provides a basic format for a well balanced fitness program that can be augmented as local levels see fit. Program success will rely on management support at every level as well as individual’s motivation and participation.

The FireFit task group includes representation from the major Federal wildland fire agencies combined with each primary wildland firefighting resource (hotshots, smokejumpers, helitack, engines); as well as subject matter experts (e.g., exercise physiologist and fitness specialist). Due to the efforts of this task group, and support provided through FFAST; the task group was able to develop a successful program and a website to provide the program information:

FireFit incorporates three specific modules that address pre-season, fire-season, and post-season fitness. Each module is unique as it provides a basic fitness program ‘framework’, specific for each season that will enable the wildland firefighter to develop a balanced and consistent fitness program while incorporating all the essential components of fitness. The modules can easily augment existing fitness programs to encourage consistency and safety and encourages year-round fitness, injury mitigation, and promotes wellness.

FireFit continues to lead the way when it comes to wildland firefighter fitness while addressing other issues including: mental fitness, team building, injury prevention, core stability and developing a mental checklist. The FireFit task group corresponds regularly to provide updates to the website including the most current and relevant information for the wildland fire community. We invite you to visit our website and welcome comments and questions.

Bequi is the Regional Fire Operations Health and Safety Specialist for the U.S. Forest Service in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The photo of Bequi was taken by Bill Gabbert at the IAWF Safety Summit in Pasadena, California in April, 2006.

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