For the third year, we traveled to Seattle and staffed the Gear Inspection station. The ≈1500 firefighters are now well trained in NFPA 1971. Gloves had labels, footwear was compliant and everyone had their liners in. I don’t have statistics on the numbers of repeat customers, but by the time I got around to asking the question in the waining hours, it occurred to me that there were a lot of new people.
I wrote a BlogSpot last year on the practical necessity of being physically capable of carrying your body weight, bunkers, SCBA AND equipment to the floor below the fire. No matter how many stories. The time to figure out that you can’t do this is not at the fire. So, the question posed was, “Any advice?” Besides picking up one foot and putting it ahead of the other?, actually, yes.
First, let’s examine the physiology of stair climbing. There’s not a lot of magic here. Climbing under load has been a well-researched topic. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) has energy-cost equations for just about every form of human activity. Climbing stairs (inclined plane) is one of the most arduous forms of ambulation- especially if you add a load. There is a horizontal component (the easy part) and then there’s the vertical (lifting) part.
The rate of climb is determined by the firefighter- not the fire. By that I mean, despite the pressing nature of the situation, you can only climb at the rate that is supported by your ability to break-down and use ATP (the basic building blocks of energy). Taking off too fast is a common problem. You pull up on the scene and see smoke or fire showing. This gives rise to an adrenergic (hormonal) response that can overpower your common sense. The object is not just to get there, but to do your job with reasonable reserve once you DO get there.
Keeping a pace that is below your Anaerobic Threshold (AT) or more precisely, the onset of blood lactate requires knowing through experience what that point is through muscle memory. Heart rate can be instructive, much like a tachometer on a car engine. But practically speaking, no one’s carrying HR monitors at the scene of a fire.
There are practical differences between racing up 69 flights of stairs and having to do this for the real deal. But the benefits of training convey to either situation. People who are highly trained can go anaerobic without serious consequences in that they can back off and recover while they’re still moving. The unfit person will come to a screeching halt and sit down, further exacerbating the situation. In other words, the well trained firefighter-athlete is a safer, more effective worker. And the more fit the individual, the greater the physical work capacity.
In my next BlogSpot on this topic, I’m going to layout a formulaic approach to training for climbing stairs. It’s not rocket science. But the principle of specificity of training applies: you get better at the stuff you do if it closely resembles the final product.