An emergency organization such as the Trinidad and Tobago Fire Service cannot, even for one second, fail in its sacred responsibilities to respond instantaneously and manage successfully the myriad risks that confront the citizenry. The general nature of the fire service demands a critical level of fitness to perform vast emergency functions and fire fighters must be physically and mentally prepared to meet the occupational challenges. This impeccable state of health and fitness must be maintained or even increased to efficiently meet the many critical job performance standards.
Fire fighters are not super heroes that emerge unscathed from emergency sites where intense physical and mental aptitude are required to extinguish the static and dynamic risks encountered. Local and international statistical data indicate a high occurrence of injuries to fire fighters at both emergency and non emergency operations. The leading types of injury received during fire ground operations are strain, sprain or muscular pain. In addition, the discovery of a disturbing trend has been noticed where the measured level of fitness among firefighters has declined, despite mandatory physical fitness program.
This decrease from the optimal fitness standard enhance the risk of life style diseases such as heart attacks, hypertension and diabetes, which have contributed to related deaths to fire fighters. Illness and injuries affecting any work team inadvertently affect work performance. High levels of physical fitness aid fire fighters in intuitively performing emergency tasks safely and reduce the risk of injury and illness. Therefore, a bespoke physical fitness program will undoubtedly enhance fire service employees’ health and wellness and improve operational efficiency
Physical fitness can be generally defined as “The ability to perform daily tasks vigorously and alertly, with energy left over for enjoying leisure- time activities and meeting emergency demands. It is the ability to endure, to bear up, to withstand stress, to carry on in circumstances where an unfit person could not continue, and is a major basis for good health and well-being. ” (The President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports). The fire service’s greatest asset is not equipment, apparatus or stations, but rather its personnel.
Fire fighting is a profession that demands competence, physical strength and endurance greater than almost any other profession. Fire fighters can be considered “Occupational Athletes”. When called to duty, they are pushed to their physical limits and are additionally exposed to chemical, biological, and psychological hazards, which place excessive stressors on them, that can impact on their overall wellness. Their ability to endure these extremes is sometimes the determining factor of life or death for those they have sworn to protect.
It is evident that fire fighters must maintain high levels of muscular strength, muscular endurance, cardiovascular and anaerobic endurance. An optimal physical fitness program, comprising exercise prescriptions specific to their needs, is essential to maintaining and improving ideal fitness levels required to perform tasks safely and efficiently. Unfortunately, the current fitness initiative in the fire service has remained quite static and devoid of modern fitness measures, equipment and facilities.
It also facilitates, more so, personal motivation to engage in physical activities rather than a mandatory organizational policy. This model, consequently, have generated an observable decline in the levels of fitness of the workforce. The International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) and the International Association of Fire fighters (IAFF) have also documented this concern in their jurisdiction and have spearheaded a drive toward improving fire fighters’ health and fitness with initiatives, which addresses their health and safety.
In Christopher Norris’s study of physical fitness in the fire service, he stated “fire fighters are called upon to perform unimaginable tasks in extreme conditions and continue to do so throughout their career. The physical fitness and conditioning of the fire fighters is a crucial component in delivering and providing of the services expected of the fire service “(2006). Research has repeatedly shown the numerous benefits of physical activities to ones’ physical, mental and emotional wellbeing.
Regular physical activities; reduces the risk of dying prematurely from lifestyle diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, stroke, certain types of cancer, depression and anxiety; helps control weight; build and maintain healthy bones, muscles, and joints and promotes psychological well-being. According to the CARICOM Secretariat, “Life-style diseases have emerged as the principal public-health challenge in recent decades. The chronic diseases result largely from bad food choices and low levels of physical activity” (2007).
Through intelligent observation, the fire service employees appear not to have been insulated against the scourge of such life style disorders. There is a disregarded increase in illness and deaths of fire fighters due to the acquisition of these health risks, which may be affiliated to the sub standard levels of physical activities and a festering sedentary life style that is fast becoming the contemporary culture. Giving some credibility to this local presumption, according to the U. S.
A National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) statistical data for fire fighters fatality 2010, “Stress, exertion, and other medical-related issues, which usually result in heart attacks or other sudden cardiac events, almost always account for the largest share of deaths in any given year. Of the 39 exertion- or medical-related fatalities in 2010, 34 were classified as sudden cardiac deaths and five were due to strokes or brain aneurysm. ”(2011). Gleaning through international articles, it is safe to analyze that fire fighters state of fitness and well-being is a critical issue around the world today.
There is an estimated fifty-four (54) fire officers dying each year in the U. S. A. due to heart attack and stroke according to the (NFPA). Fire fighters as an occupational group are at an increased risk for a cardiac-related injury, with the largest proportion (44%) of fire fighter on-duty mortality due to sudden cardiac death because of poor physical fitness behaviours. According to Rick Southy’s study of fire department physical fitness, “Physical fitness relates to a longer, healthier life without avoidable chronic disease.
On a daily basis, a physically fit body can defend one against on-the-job illness and injury” (1998). As articulated before, regular physical activity is one of the most effective disease prevention behaviours. Critical to the fire service is a fit and healthy workforce. General public data for educational purposes indicate that, increased physical fitness leads to improved health, and healthier employees are less likely to be absent. It is therefore reasonable to proffer that there is a direct relationship between fitness levels and employee’s productivity, job satisfaction, and absenteeism.
Examining the fire service employees’ absenteeism records for the past three years revealed a high percentage of cases due to sick leave. The majority of complaints articulated though were for minor illnesses. There is no frequent turnover of staff for this occupation as the terms of employment prescribe a stable employee base. Nevertheless, frequent absenteeism of staff in this essential organization has the potential to reduce the effective response and ultimate efficient recovery from a hazard impact to the public.
A summary of a study entitled, The Association between Work Performance and Physical Activity, Cardio respiratory Fitness, and Obesity, published by the Journal of Occupational and Environmental, revealed that higher levels of physical activity related to reduced decrements in quality of work performed and overall job performance; higher cardio respiratory fitness related to reduced decrements in quantity of work performed, and a reduction in extra effort exerted to perform the work; obesity related to more difficulty in getting along with co workers; severe obesity related to a higher number of work loss days.
It concluded that these lifestyle-related modifiable health risk factors, significantly impact employee work performance. A personal analysis from information gleaned suggests that a physically fit employee stays on the job longer, thinks more clearly, operates more safely, gets along better with co-workers, and generally gets more personal satisfaction out of the job. Clearly, participating in an employee fitness program will stimulate and enhance productivity. The fire service is indeed a fundamental provider of emergency services in today’s high risk society.
To dispense its’ obligations with success, professionalism and pride, ensuring employees are fit, competent and well trained is a priority. To remain viable and sustain the noble characteristic of this occupation, fire service management must ensure that employees’ physical fitness, health and wellbeing are an integral part of the organizational culture. A custom built health and wellness program is the solution for today and beyond, in a fire service filled with opportunities and challenges.
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Physical fitness in the Fire Service. Retrieved December 15, from U. S. Fire Administration: www. usfa. fema. gov/pdf/efop/efo38873. pdf Pronk, N. P. , Martinson, B. P. , Kessler, R. C. , Beck, A. L. , Simon, G. E. , & Wang, P. M. (2004). The Association Between Work Performance and Physical Activity, Cardiorespiratory Fitness, and Obesity January 2004 – Volume 46 – Issue 1 – pp 19-25. Retrieved December 12, 2011, from Journal of Occupational & Environmental Medicine : http://journals. lww. com/joem/Abstract/2004/01000/The_Association_Between_ Work_ Performance_and. 5. aspx Southey, R. (1998, 02). Fire department physical fitness:.
Retrieved december 01, 2011, from US Fire Administraion: http://www. usfa. fema. gov/pdf/efop/efo28157. pdf The President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports. (n. d. ). Fitness Fundamentals: Guidelines for Personal Exercise Programs. Retrieved December 06,2011, from http://www. fitness. gov/fitness. htm US Fire Administration. (2009, 02). Health and wellness guide for volunteer fire and emergency services. Retrieved December 02, 2011. From http://m. usfa. fema. gov/downloads/pdf publications/fa_321. pdf