Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Excellence on Fire

What US Corporations Can Learn from the American Fire Service

Ben May

I can think of no more stirring symbol of man’s humanity to man than a fire engine.
Kurt Vonnegut

‘In a fire you can plan everything out to the minute, and a minute after that...everything changes.’
Dan Felix, Division Chief, San Jacinto California Ranger District

The Most Trusted Brand in America

Imagine a professional organization, driven by a tradition and an active, living mission of excellence, poised for service delivery 24/7. Now, think of a brand so pervasive that it is in every neighborhood in this country almost four times more ubiquitous than Starbucks. *

Consider that this organization has no market segmentation because every customer in the nation receives the highest quality of service based on one phone call day or night. Now picture an organization’s corporate brand so well-known and popular that its physical shape is immediately recognizable and understood; that the brand evokes such trust that the men and women representing it are consistently co-opted for any number of commercial products advertised in the media, hoping to grasp just a tiny piece of its halo effect, the brand being so pervasive that children play with toys representing it, dressing up in costumes of the men and women who engage in its work, many aspiring to ‘be one when he/she grows up.’ Consider that this brand has so much equity and confidence that Americans trust the organization second only to their families. * It’s no surprise that it’s the American Fire Service. Walk into the local firehouse, and you begin to understand. As you walk past the shiny, immaculately clean apparatus you are greeted by smiles and a searching look that signifies a sincere desire to help. You are seeing the personification of true customer service. This is a mission-driven philosophy that works because its very existence is based on continuous improvement for the protection of the life and property of every community in our country.
The Philosophy of ‘No Choice: The High Ground of Leadership

There are no lack of philosophies and prescriptions from corporate, non-profit and military leaders, scholars, practitioners and theorists about how organizations, especially corporations and businesses, should be run to better serve their customers and members. Whether it’s the’ knowledge worker’ management philosophies of Peter Drucker, W. Edwards Deming’s Total Quality Management or Motorola’s Six Sigma, it seems there are more ideas, observations and strategies than there are companies and organizations to implement them. Regardless of mission, vision and ‘triple bottom line,’ corporations exist for one underlying goal: profit. Certainly, that is as it should be to contribute to our national economy. Creating and maintaining customers are the lifeblood of the enterprise. CEOs and executives lead their organizations to fulfill the corporate mission: a profitable mission. Not so for public service; certainly not the fire service.

Leadership in the fire service is on a vastly different plane than that of corporations. Leadership is the organization’s life source. Fire officers operate from a unique set of principles. Their mission is driven from the heart. There is no profit motive. Firefighters carry, maintain and extend the necessity of high-touch in, for many, a disinterested, impersonal, high- tech society. They bring the flame of immediate compassion in action. There is no choice or compromise in the fire service’s mission: leadership and service excellence are bred into the organization at every level, from firefighter to fire chief. Every member is a leader from the day he or she takes the oath. Leadership is the central practice of career-long professional development in the fire and emergency services. There is no choice but to seek the highest standards possible: a constant for each firefighter and officer... Consider a mission of no choice. There is a saying in Israel about that country’s origin and place in a constantly hostile neighborhood: ‘en brera:’ ‘No choice.’ It’s no wonder that the necessity of ‘no choice’ has made Israel one of the most innovative countries in the world. It is the same with the fire service. Regardless of the situation, whether a medical emergency, wildfire inferno or the tragedy of 9/11, no choice but to achieve excellence to fulfill the mission of one of the most noble callings on earth: protecting lives and property. Think of how this concept can be transferred to a corporation or organization. It may not be an emergency service, but think how any enterprise-business, non-profit or government service- could gain such clarity and focus for every member of the organization with the courage to imagine a better future for your product or service and to follow through on your conviction as if lives depended on it; certainly, in many industries they do.
‘First Right’

Firefighters protect our citizens' first right as written in the Constitution: 'life,' so that we can enjoy the other two, 'liberty and the pursuit of happiness.' The history of this country is intertwined with firefighters. It is no coincidence that Ben Franklin founded the first fire department in America, Union Fire Co. in Philadelphia, or that the first five presidents of the U.S. were volunteer firefighters.

Firefighters love being firefighters. Most of the hundreds I have known always wanted to be firefighters since they were small children. I remember a young lieutenant who told me during a difficult time in our department that the only real regret he had in his life was that he could not live two lives so that he could be a 0firefighter twice. Many of the 1.5 million firefighters in this country are paid firefighters in one jurisdiction and volunteers in another one close by. The reason for this is because they love what they do so much.
Who Becomes a Fire Service Leader?

Who are these people? They are not so much your blue-collar workers as in the past. Most now have college degrees at the minimum, with a growing number receiving advanced degrees with career-long education in leadership and any number of technical and scientific subjects. An individual doesn't become a firefighter by accident or on a whim. There can easily be as many as 200 applicants for every available position in a metropolitan department. All-night vigils to apply to take the examination are not unusual. If one does pass the entrance exam, it is not unusual to be on a waiting list, sometimes, for a few years. Firefighting has become a diverse profession, with many women, African and Hispanic Americans in leadership positions; many as fire chief in major cities in the US. Passing this battery of tests allows a successful applicant to become a 'rookie,' which has its own complex curriculum. After that, it's constant training and study for the rest of one's career. The result is an extremely intelligent individual in superb physical condition responsible for our citizens' safety day and night. This is especially true for senior fire officers and chiefs. Some of this country's finest leaders are fire chiefs and fire administrators bedecked with any number of advanced degrees. Most receive a master’s degree in Public Administration, Chemistry, Engineering, Emergency Management or Business. Many receive the much sought-after Chief Fire Officer designation from the Center for Excellence in Public Safety, the organization that accredits fire departments and credentials fire officers across the nation. Being a leader in public safety in a metropolitan fire and emergency services department is every bit as challenging as that of a CEO in private enterprise. Leaders in local public service are under constant scrutiny from a wide range of constituents, living in a fishbowl day and night. There is no room for ‘adequate’ leadership in the fire service. No ‘market segmentation’ for emergency service means every citizen in this country receives the highest quality service whether living in an elegant apartment building or mansion in the suburbs or in a cardboard box under a bridge.
A Pinnacle of Brand Equity in Creative Action

Any good corporate marketing officer knows that trust is the key criterion of brand development. Study any marketing text of the attributes of an irresistible brand and you will find every box with a check for the fire service. Brand trust and relevancy do not just appear in the marketplace. It is earned through millions of actions and certainly interactions-some large and some small-everyday. In the case of the fire service it is around the clock in every city and neighborhood; in every wilderness area where wildfire threatens. These expectations are the result of strategies each fire department develops and modifies based on potential hazards in the community. There is no one size fits all. Every jurisdiction has its own risk characteristics. This kind of responsibility requires a kind of dedication, intelligence and leadership that any corporation and business can learn to emulate. The US Fire Service is replete with such lessons. The very nature of emergency services demands strategies and tactics designed for the challenges of rapidly changing situations. These ‘strategies’ are based on very short timelines. This is a concept known as ‘incident command.’ Think of a strategic plan in which the tactics are changing minute to minute, or customer service in which the client’s worst day is met by professionals whose quality of actions represent their best day, especially and individually for you. And every situation is as different as the ‘customer’ they serve. Training for these professionals is so critical because ‘unknown’ is the nature of the business. Most of the training in the fire service is, by definition, instinctual or second nature. This allows for the creativity and innovation so necessary when facing mostly unexpected, dangerous situations. However, there is a rapidly growing number of the most necessary and heart-rending situations that are not emergencies. I have seen many calls for service from emotionally disturbed people who literally needed to see that someone just cared in our ever- growing, alienated society. The Lebanese philosopher, Kahlil Gibran wrote that ‘work is love made visible.’ Surely, the fire service is one of the purest forms of this philosophy.
The Global Landscape for Courageous, Intelligent Leadership in a Changing World

The fire service has continued to grow as the market for its services has expanded. Originally developed as a reactive agency for fire emergencies, the fire service has broadened to fulfill the needs of its ‘markets,’ whether its emergency medical services for an aging population, the opioid epidemic, increased severe weather destruction, the perilous growth of wildfires in the wildland urban interface, or now, sadly, live shooter situations. According to the National Fire Protection Association, in 2017 every 24 seconds a fire department responded to a fire somewhere in the United States. Fire departments responded to 26,880, 800 incident calls according to the US Fire Administration in that same year, 64% of those calls were emergency medical with 4% fire related. However, many buildings and houses are now composed of materials that burn faster and hotter. There were still 1, 319, 500 fires in the US in 2017 with 3,400 deaths and 14,670 injuries with $23B in property loss. These are only direct costs. Wildfires alone accounted for $8B. The United States still very much has a ‘fire problem,’ especially compared to other first world countries. Most people would agree that when they turn on the local news or scan their favorite media source, there is usually a story about a house fire sometimes daily, but certainly weekly. This is not the norm in other Western countries. The growing number of fast- burning materials in new home construction are carcinogenic, leading to an uptick in cancer- related diseases for firefighters and less time for people to leave a burning building. Confronting these problems has led to a much more granular analysis of local hazards through detailed data analysis, initiating proactive risk reduction programs expanding across the country. In 2018 there were 1, 216, 600 fire fighters serving in 27, 228 fire departments nationwide responding to emergencies from 51,150 fire stations. Only 31% (346,150) of the fire fighting force are career with 788,250 volunteers. Considering return on investment, the fire service continues to grow its value in the community. Through inspections and quick response fire departments save many businesses, many of them small businesses: the lifeblood of small communities.
Today’s Challenges for the Fire Service

While there are philosophies and strategies corporate America can learn from the leaders of our nation’s fire officers, they can also learn from how the fire service faces its own challenges. “300 years of tradition unimpeded by progress” is a slogan the fire service dropped years ago but the fact that it even existed demonstrates the constant need for the fire service to challenge and eliminate those practices and traditions that are no longer useful in a rapidly changing environment-physically and socially. It’s a matter of corporate culture and how the fire service embraces the challenges of changing needs from the changing populations they serve. Possessing the best people for a service most communities love does not guarantee that the fire service will continue to operate as it has in the present time of turbulent change. Rapidly changing technology in structures and building materials may dictate significant disruption. Innovative technologies may greatly diminish the need for firefighters to enter buildings presenting rapidly deteriorating conditions. While the mission remains the same, the strategies and tactics will change. Robotic firefighters have been in production for the last five years, with some models in experimentation now for the military. New commercial buildings must have sprinklers and smoke alarms, with new homes required to have smoke alarms. Presently only Maryland and California have laws that mandate new homes to have sprinklers. As the need for the ‘big red truck’ concept of firefighting is changing, the fire service will grow in its ability to be an all needs social service for the community. If the fire service does not adapt to change it faces the risk of losing pieces of its ‘business’ to private enterprise.

The good news is that, so far, the US Fire Service continues to transform itself quietly in line with its core mission to protect the life and property of every citizen day and night. In fact, the progression and expansion of the fire service exemplify a Blue Ocean Strategy of development. Created as a reactive, necessary service since before the founding of the Republic, it has expanded to a proactive, data-driven, all hazards agency replete with constantly modified preventative plans called Community Risk Reduction, involving multiple agencies modified to the needs of the communities they protect. This new approach to community protection matches risk to specific need through granular data mining, strengthening the fire service mission of an all hazards agency, as well as the creation of alliances with other agencies to serve the public.
Lessons from the Noble Calling

Considering the profusion of leadership lessons in the many handbooks, from every profession imaginable, consider these key points of difference from the fire service model to be useful for men and women leading organizations and companies.

1. Every Member a Leader

From the first day of rookie school, every firefighter is a leader. Think not? Consider a volunteer fire department where a building fire is reported in its area. Now, consider that the first person arriving at the station to drive the engine is not an officer, but a first-year firefighter. He or she is now responsible for driving the engine to the fire, assessing the situation, reporting status, checking for people hurt or trapped, getting water on the fire and establishing ‘incident command.’ Yes, this is an unusual situation. Aren't all emergencies? Leadership is built into the educational curriculum of the fire service. Every member studies it as a separate discipline for one’s entire career,, applying it in every aspect of the job. It is a fabric in the culture of the fire service
2. Pervasive Training and Education; Constant Preparation;
Perfecting the Basics

The necessity to remain calm in as many situations as possible demands training so pervasive that most actions and thoughts must be instinctual. This means constant preparation: perfecting the basics. Most calls require a ‘lessons learned’ meeting after returning to the station. This kind of instruction involves reacting to a plethora of unusual incidents, with no time wasted on trying to figure out what to do when confronted with the emergency. This does not just apply to emergencies. Fire officers are constantly creating and updating detailed ‘pre-fire plans’ which outline every action necessary should a particular building have an emergency. Fire prevention officers’ duties are to maintain commercial and institutional building safety through constant inspections, enforcement evaluation and public education. This kind of data driven analysis and preparation ensure creativity and innovation when confronted with unexpected, complex situations.

3. A Tradition of Heartfelt Care

One of the true points of difference between the fire service and other organizations is the strength of heart and personal care that define the spirit off each member. The idea of family is paramount. Being prepared to put one’s life on the line creates a very tight knit group of people. Consider that firefighters are really families caring for other families. Some years ago, there was a popular trend in the fire service that ‘customer service’ should be studied and applied to a public service just like other businesses. But the fire service is not a business. And this is the whole point. If any organization should be studied for excellence and process improvement, wouldn't it be instructive to consider the fire service, which by definition and necessity must improve its processes, especially when lives and safety are the heart of that process?
4. Facing Fear in the Line of Fire

There is a quote by Eleanor Roosevelt defining courage and poise, pursuing the need to face what one fears: “You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You must do what you fear.” On face value, one might assume that, of course, such advice makes sense for an emergency service. In fact, such an assumption is quite simplistic. Consider the words of Emerson that “most men lead lives of quiet desperation.'' This kind of courage comes from going beyond one’s comfort zone. Firefighters are constantly challenged to do just that but intelligently and with constant training and preparation. What reason could any manager or executive have not to go well beyond the comfort zone, to the dark side of ‘fear?’ Probably a risk worth taking for any of us in any organization. What could you achieve if you did what you were afraid to face?

5. Pride and Honor

When a firefighter is sworn in, the pride of becoming a member of such a respected organization instills a kind of nobility that imbues each member with a sense of such integrity that the word failure doesn’t recognize. Imagine this same sense of pride as you approach your career
6. Pursue Excellence ar Your Only Choice

There is a distinct difference in thought, strategy and execution when there is no choice but to succeed. Can you imagine if, by definition, your career depended on the need to perform flawlessly as though lives depended on it? If nothing else, the fire service teaches this ‘clarity’ of responsibility.
What about You and Your Organization and What about You?

Reflect, for a minute, on your position in the organization you represent. Can you say that its culture nurtures its members as part of a family on a mission of excellence to confront the fear of a future you can embrace every day? Do you swell with pride with the nobility of your company’s vision, strategies and actions? Walk into your local firehouse. Soak up the culture, intelligence and warmth of the place. Ask a few questions and see if you aren’t renewed by associating with some men and women whose answers reflect a mission of excellence on fire.

Personal Note from the Author

Since my first memory I always wanted to be a fire fighter. Throughout my career and life, I always felt that the privilege to be a part of the fire department was the ultimate pinnacle of my life. I have never wavered in that desire. After completing my professional career in the private sector I can honestly say that, for me, it couldn’t come close to the satisfaction I derive from those too few times I made my contribution to the fire service, just being around the fine men and women who wear the uniform. This article is dedicated to each of them. Ben May

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Mid-Atlantic Regional Chapter (MARC) of the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM)

For over 40 years, MARC has held meetings attended by health care practitioners, professors, undergrads and graduate students from the states of NY, NJ, DE, MD, PA, WV and DC.

The total count was a new high-tide line of 981 attendees at the Sheraton in Harrisburg. I was invited to be a part of a panel of presenters with the topic of Firefighters.

The impetus came from our outstanding presence at the Annual Meeting of ACSM in Orlando earlier this year. But this would differ from a symposium to “Show and Tell.”

Brent Davis and I brought a Keiser Force Machine and punctuated the presentation with offers to 50 attendees of our session to come on down and give it a wack.

We interposed each participant’s foray into the world of the Firefighter Combat Challenge with some of the science behind the games.

As expected, the Challenge gained new respect from the world of Kinesiology. Some snapshots of the session below:

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Rescue Randy: Where are You?

Looks like we have a meme working here.

This would be funny if it were not a felony for Grand Theft (≈$2K).

I can think of a host of gags that will continue

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

“Get what you want without compromise”

That’s the call of our times.

Run a marathon without getting tired.
Lose weight without dieting.
Get ahead without working hard.
Earn big money without risk…
When you expose it this clearly, it’s obviously nonsense. Compromise is precisely what’s called for.
You can’t have everything you want. But, if you care enough and trade enough and work hard enough, you might be able to get some things that matter.
The real question might not be, “what do you want,” it might be, “what do you care enough to compromise for?”
From Seth Godin’s daily email; I thought that you would relate.

Monday, October 28, 2019

BOLO: Rescue Randy is Missing

Upon packing up, it appeared that Rescue Randy wandered away while wearing a red Nomex suit.

This is a first; a brand-new Rescue Randy disappeared sometime after the event on Saturday and was discovered missing Sunday morning.

He was staged between the Registration trailer and the tower.

Please keep your eyes and ears peeled for any leads.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

How Exercise Lowers the Risk of Alzheimer’s by Changing Your Brain

By Alice Park • Time Magazine August 9, 2019

More and more studies are showing how regular exercise benefits the brain, and in particular, the aging brain. What’s less clear is how exactly exercise counters the cognitive decline that comes with aging and diseases like Alzheimer’s.

Just 10 Minutes of Exercise a Week May Be Enough to Extend Your Life, Study Says
Exercising for just 10 minutes a week is linked to a longer life, according to a new study published in the
British Journal of Sports Medicine.

To find out, for nearly a decade, Ozioma Okonkwo, assistant professor of medicine at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health and his colleagues have studied a unique group of middle-aged people at higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s. Through a series of studies, the team has been building knowledge about which biological processes seem to change with exercise. Okonkwo’s latest findings show that improvements in aerobic fitness mitigated one of the physiological brain changes associated with Alzheimer’s: the slowing down of how neurons breakdown glucose. The research, which has not been published yet, was presented at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association on Aug. 9.

Okonkwo works with the 1,500 people on the Wisconsin Registry for Alzheimer’s Prevention (WRAP)—all of whom are cognitively normal, but have genes that put them at higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s, or have one or two parents who have been diagnosed with the disease, or both. In the latest study, Okonkwo recruited 23 people from the WRAP population who were not physically active. Eleven were asked to participate in an exercise regimen to improve their aerobic fitness for six months, and 12 served as the control. All had their brains scanned to track Alzheimer’s-related brain changes including differences in how neurons metabolized glucose, since in people with Alzheimer’s glucose breakdown slows. At the end of the study period, the group that exercised more showed higher levels of glucose metabolism and performed better on cognitive-function tests compared to the controls.

“We are carrying our research full circle and beginning to demonstrate some causality,” says Okonkwo about the significance of his findings.

In their previous work, he and his team identified a series of Alzheimer’s-related biological changes that seemed to be affected by exercise by comparing, retrospectively, people who were more physically active to those who were not. In this study, they showed that intervening with an exercise regimen could actually affect these processes. Taken together, his body of research is establishing exactly how physical activity contributes to significant changes in the biological processes that drive Alzheimer’s, and may even reduce the effect of strong risk factors such as age and genes linked to higher risk of neurodegenerative disease.

For example, in their earlier work his group confirmed that as people age, the presence of Alzheimer’s-related brain changes increases—including the buildup of amyloid, slower breakdown of glucose by brain cells, shrinking of the volume of the hippocampus (central to memory), and declines in cognitive function measured in standard recall and recognition tests.

But they found that in people who reported exercising at moderate intensity at least 150 minutes a week, as public health experts recommend, brain scans showed that these changes were significantly reduced and in some cases non-existent compared to people who were not active. “The association between age and Alzheimer’s brain changes was blunted,” says Okonkwo, “Even if [Alzheimer’s] got worse, it didn’t get worse at the same speed or rate among those who are physically active as in those who are inactive.”

In another previous study, they found the benefits of exercise in controlling Alzheimer’s processes even among those with genetic predisposition for the disease. When they divided the participants by fitness levels, based on a treadmill test and their ability to efficiently take in oxygen, they found that being fit nearly negated the effect of the deleterious gene ApoE4. “It’s a remarkable finding because it’s not something that was predicted,” says Okonkwo.

In yet another previous study, Okonkwo and his team also found that people with higher aerobic fitness showed lower amounts of white matter hyperintensities, brain changes that are signs of neuron degeneration and show up as brighter spots on MRI images (hence the name). White matter hyperintensities tend to increase in the brain with age, and are more common in people with dementia or cognitive impairment. They form as neurons degrade and the myelin that surrounds their long-reaching arms—which helps nerves communicate with each other effectively—starts to deteriorate. In people with dementia, that process happens faster than normal, leading to an increase in white matter hyperintensities. Okonwko found that people who were more aerobically fit showed lower amounts of these hyperintensities than people who were less fit.

Given the encouraging results from his latest study of 23 people that showed intervening with exercise can change some of the Alzheimer’s-related brain changes of the disease, he plans to expand his small study to confirm the positive effect that exercise and better fitness can have in slowing the signs of Alzheimer’s. Already, his work has inspired a study launched earlier this year and funded by the National Institutes of Health that includes brain scans to track how physical activity affects biological factors like amyloid and glucose in people at higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s. The cumulative results show that “there may be certain things we are born with, and certain things that we can’t change [when it comes to Alzheimer’s risk], but a behavior like physical exercise might help us to modify that,” says Heather Snyder, vice president of medical and scientific relations at the Alzheimer’s Association.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

The Origins of the Firefighter Combat Challenge

From time to time, the question comes to me, be it in a TV interview, or just a new Competitor: “Where did this (meaning the Firefighter Combat Challenge®) come from?” 

Short answer: “This is the only federally funded, University-based, occupational physiology research study that became an international touring and televised sport.”

The Sports Medicine Center of the University of Maryland’s School of Public Health was the recipient of a grant from the predecessor of FEMA.  

In cooperation with the Fire Training Officer’s sub-committee of the Greater Washington DC Council of Governments (GOG) I conducted a JTA (job task analysis). This is the process whereby essential functions of the position (firefighter) are identified and quantified. Our criteria were a search for arduous, frequently performed or critical tasks. Critical means that failure could result in injury or death. 

The validity of the five linked tasks is evident with the world-wide acceptance and promulgation of the Challenge. There are professional and legal standards that must be met to withstand the rigor of publication in peer-reviewed journals. The results of our study were published in the journal of the American College of Sports Medicine (Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise).  But beyond a competition, the higher standard is being able to defend against legal challenges when the arduous nature of the profession has a disparate impact on “protected classes.” 

And then there’s a lot of steps from a research study to the development of a copyrighted, trademarked competition and all of the intricacies associated with over 60,000 participants spanning nearly three decades. 

While imitation is the highest form of flattery, it is disconcerting when your intellectual property is hijacked and represented to be the creation of their own. Simply stated, there is no form of firefighter testing or competition involving a tower, forcible entry, hose advance and a victim rescue that is not a derivative of the Firefighter Combat Challenge®. 

My vision for the Challenge is that there is only one right way to run this event. When people start to change the fundamentals, we lose respect for the objectivity of the event. There’s only one 440 yard dash and the performance time has universal credibility.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Augustine’s Laws

Augustine's laws were a series of tongue in cheek aphorisms put forth by Norman Ralph Augustine, an American aerospace businessman who served as Under Secretary of the Army from 1975 to 1977. In 1984 he published his laws.

I enjoyed the humor, and thought that you might as well...

Law Number I: The best way to make a silk purse from a sow's ear is to begin with a silk sow. The same is true of money.

Law Number II: If today were half as good as tomorrow is supposed to be, it would probably be twice as good as yesterday was.

Law Number III: There are no lazy veteran lion hunters.

Law Number IV: If you can afford to advertise, you don't need to.

Law Number V: One-tenth of the participants produce over one-third of the output. Increasing the number of participants merely reduces the average output.

Law Number VI: A hungry dog hunts best. A hungrier dog hunts even better.

Law Number VII: Decreased business base increases overhead. So does increased business base.

Law Number VIII: The most unsuccessful four years in the education of a cost-estimator is fifth-grade arithmetic.

Law Number IX: Acronyms and abbreviations should be used to the maximum extent possible to make trivial ideas profound...Q.E.D.

Law Number X: Bulls do not win bullfights; people do. People do not win people fights; lawyers do.

Law Number XI: If the Earth could be made to rotate twice as fast, managers would get twice as much done. If the Earth could be made to rotate twenty times as fast, everyone else would get twice as much done since all the managers would fly off.

Law Number XII: It costs a lot to build bad products.

Law Number XIII: There are many highly successful businesses in the United States. There are also many highly paid executives. The policy is not to intermingle the two.

Law Number XIV: After the year 2015, there will be no airplane crashes. There will be no takeoffs either, because electronics will occupy 100 percent of every airplane's weight.

Law Number XV: The last 10 percent of performance generates one-third of the cost and two-thirds of the problems.

Law Number XVI: In the year 2054, the entire defense budget will purchase just one aircraft. This aircraft will have to be shared by the Air Force and Navy 3-1/2 days each per week except for leap year when it will be made available to the Marines for the extra day.

Law Number XVII: Software is like entropy. It is difficult to grasp, weighs nothing, and obeys the Second Law of Thermodynamics; i.e., it always increases.

Law Number XVIII: It is very expensive to achieve high unreliability. It is not uncommon to increase the cost of an item by a factor of ten for each factor of ten degradation accomplished.

Law Number XIX: Although most products will soon be too costly to purchase, there will be a thriving market in the sale of books on how to fix them.

Law Number XX: In any given year, Congress will appropriate the amount of funding approved the prior year plus three-fourths of whatever change the administration requests, minus 4-percent tax.

Law Number XXI: It's easy to get a loan unless you need it.

Law Number XXII: If stock market experts were so expert, they would be buying stock, not selling advice.

Law Number XXIII: Any task can be completed in only one-third more time than is currently estimated.

Law Number XXIV: The only thing more costly than stretching the schedule of an established project is accelerating it, which is itself the most costly action known to man.

Law Number XXV: A revised schedule is to business what a new season is to an athlete or a new canvas to an artist.

Law Number XXVI: If a sufficient number of management layers are superimposed on each other, it can be assured that disaster is not left to chance.

Law Number XXVII: Rank does not intimidate hardware. Neither does the lack of rank.

Law Number XXVIII: It is better to be the reorganizer than the reorganizee.

Law Number XXIX: Executives who do not produce successful results hold on to their jobs only about five years. Those who produce effective results hang on about half a decade.

Law Number XXX: By the time the people asking the questions are ready for the answers, the people doing the work have lost track of the questions.

Law Number XXXI: The optimum committee has no members.

Law Number XXXII: Hiring consultants to conduct studies can be an excellent means of turning problems into gold, your problems into their gold.

Law Number XXXIII: Fools rush in where incumbents fear to tread.

Law Number XXXIV: The process of competitively selecting contractors to perform work is based on a system of rewards and penalties, all distributed randomly.

Law Number XXXV: The weaker the data available upon which to base one's conclusion, the greater the precision which should be quoted in order to give the data authenticity.

Law Number XXXVI: The thickness of the proposal required to win a multimillion dollar contract is about one millimeter per million dollars. If all the proposals conforming to this standard were piled on top of each other at the bottom of the Grand Canyon it would probably be a good idea.

Law Number XXXVII: Ninety percent of the time things will turn out worse than you expect. The other 10 percent of the time you had no right to expect so much.

Law Number XXXVIII: The early bird gets the worm. The early worm...gets eaten.

Law Number XXXIX: Never promise to complete any project within six months of the end of the year, in either direction.

Law Number XL: Most projects start out slowly, and then sort of taper off.

Law Number XLI: The more one produces, the less one gets.

Law Number XLII: Simple systems are not feasible because they require infinite testing.

Law Number XLIII: Hardware works best when it matters the least.

Law Number XLIV: Aircraft flight in the 21st century will always be in a westerly direction, preferably supersonic, crossing time zones to provide the additional hours needed to fix the broken electronics.

Law Number XLV: One should expect that the expected can be prevented, but the unexpected should have been expected.

Law Number XLVI: A billion saved is a billion earned.

Law Number XLVII: Two-thirds of the Earth's surface is covered with water. The other third is covered with auditors from headquarters.

Law Number XLVIII: The more time you spend talking about what you have been doing, the less time you have to spend doing what you have been talking about. Eventually, you spend more and more time talking about less and less until finally you spend all your time talking about nothing.

Law Number XLIX: Regulations grow at the same rate as weeds.

Law Number L: The average regulation has a life span one-fifth as long as a chimpanzee's and one-tenth as long as a human's, but four times as long as the official's who created it.

Law Number LI: By the time of the United States Tricentennial, there will be more government workers than there are workers.

Law Number LII: People working in the private sector should try to save money. There remains the possibility that it may someday be valuable again.

Saturday, September 7, 2019

13th Annual Berlin Firefighter Combat Challenge®

Dateline: September 6 & 7, Potsdamer Platz, Berlin

Over 300 firefighters from 11 countries descended on the visitor center of Berlin for two great days of racing. 

Germany, Austria, Switzerland, France, Poland, Slovenia, UK, Iran, Italy, Luxemburg, and Belgium were represented in the most impressive of walk-ons. 

But, the races were even more impressive. Under the management and direction of Mike Weikamm, Berlin Fire Brigade, Individual, Tandem and Relay racers took to the course and performed admirably for thousands of locals and tourists.

Friday’s weather could not have been better; nearly cloudless skies with an ambient temperature hovering around 70°F. Saturday, while overcast, saw temps in the mid 60’s. So, overheating was not an issue. 

Two videos are available for your viewing pleasure. One of the multiple sub-90-second runs, and the Relay Championship between Slovenia and Lion’s Den Germany. 

An update to this post will take place once the final results have been posted on the Official website

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Our Salute to Tommy Sadler at the Nebraska State Fair, Grand Island

Our competitors recognized the late, great Tommy Sadler on Saturday, August 31, 2019, after the competition with a push-up fest and salutary comments. Here’s a nice piece by the NBC local affiliate.

Friday, August 16, 2019

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) and the Firefighter Combat Challenge®

I’ve addressed this topic before, and it’s time to revisit the implications of the DCMA for our background music playlist. Every artist that wants to make a living through their music has been afforded protection by Congress under the DCMA.

Meaning, that every song that you hear on the radio or TV is protected from piracy. Like it or not, the original artist, songwriter, producer “owns” their original work. Or can sell the rights to another agency.

When we play music in a public place, we are obligated to report and pay a use fee. As you might imagine, this can not only become expensive, but confusing since there are many agencies representing the millions of tunes available for downloading through a host of servers.

While we do not proffer our soundtrack as the reason for attending the Firefighter Combat Challenge®, it does add a certain ambiance to the show.

The consequences of violating the DMCA can be very expensive. Fines levied can be in the thousands of dollars, notwithstanding the fact that morally, it’s theft.

So, if you hear someone complaining that we’re playing “unlicensed” music [royalty-free tunes in the public domain], kindly explain that we don’t make the laws and ignorance of the law is not an excuse.

We have been recruiting garage bands, looking for exposure, offering free use of their repertoire. If you know any musician that would like to donate sports-appropriate tracks, have them contact Rob O’Connor.

We’re always happy to provide a platform for budding artists.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Retro-Reflective/Fluorescent Material Color and Pattern Choices

One of the most underrated safety devices on emergency vehicles may well be a retro-reflective/fluorescent tape. It is always visible, requires no electrical power, adds negligible weight and is highly cost-effective.

The retro-reflective portion works only at night and is energized by oncoming lights from other vehicles. The fluorescent portion works only during daytime (from dawn till dusk) and is activated by the ultraviolet rays from the sun.

While the retro-reflective/fluorescent products are available in many colors, several stand out from the rest. The most visible colors, day and night, are yellow and lime-yellow, with lime-yellow having the safety advantage because of visual impact.

When considering chevron pairs, offering a contrast to lime-yellow is the red stripe. The result is lime-yellow, offset by red, is the most visible and safest of the chevron color choices and offers superior attention-getting responses. This fluorescent lime-yellow and red chevron pattern should be used on all emergency vehicles that use chevrons, regardless of service branch.

Why not white? While white can be measured as reflecting light, it does not have the brightness of lime-yellow or yellow. White does not attract attention. Pairing red and white in a chevron pattern is not as safe as the lime-yellow/red choice.

Around the clock, the fluorescent lime-yellow/red chevron choices are the highest rated. And either day or night, those tape applications that are free of dirt are most effective.

Picking patterns

In addition to the selection of color, the patterns selected are of prime importance. The large-area chevron pattern on the rear is the standard but more attention needs to be paid to the overall patterns on the sides of vehicles. While logos are popular, they do not provide enough visual information relating to the outline of the vehicle.

Especially at night, it is important to use enough retro-reflective material to offer a general outline of the sides of the vehicle. This gives a high level of information to the oncoming driver. Currently, a civilian driver sees a horizontal band along the beltline, and this is insufficient, even if it exhibits ribbon-like artwork, emblems or EKG waves.

Emblems, logos, images and company insignia are all fine as long as they are not used as a replacement for the outline tape.

By providing additional material horizontally along the upper and lower edges of the cab and chassis, the outline of the vehicle becomes apparent. They do not have to be solid lines but rather can be segmented. Our brain can add in the missing details to make it appear complete.

Why is tape color, rear chevrons and overall vehicle tape outline so important? They provide the oncoming driver with additional visual information, both day and night, in fog and smoke, and weather-induced poor visibility, because it improves reaction time. This provides for a safer driving and accident-avoidance response. The importance of improved reaction time should not be underestimated as is a vital component of emergency vehicle highway safety.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

God is Watching...

The children were filling their lunch trays at the cafeteria of a Catholic elementary school.  At the head of the food line was a pile of apples upon which a nun had posted a note reading: “Take only one.  God is watching.”

At the opposite end of the table was a pile of chocolate chip cookies and a second note, this one posted by a fourth grader, reading: “Take all you want.  God is watching the apples.”

Friday, July 5, 2019

Anybody Recognize any of these Guys?

This is a photo taken at our 2nd World Challenge Championsihp, inside the Reunion Arena in Dallas, commensurate with the annual meeting of the International Association of Fire Chiefs. The date is sometime in the fall of 1993.

We're trying to track down the people in the photo, some of whom are deceased. If you recognize anyone, send me their name and position in the photo.

Challenge Event Staff, 2nd Year (1993), Reunion Arena, Dallas Texas

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Sugar substitutes: Is one better or worse for diabetes? For weight loss? An expert explains

Jamie PitlickAssociate Professor of Pharmacy Practice, Drake University

Wandering through the grocery store, it is easy to be overwhelmed by the numerous brands and health claims on the dozens of sugar substitutes. It can be particularly confusing for those with diabetes or pre-diabetes who must keep their blood sugar in check and control their weight.

With the growing diabetes and obesity epidemic, there has been increasing awareness around the use of added sugars in foods. The most recent edition of the U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that added sugars should be kept to less than 10% of the calories consumed, which turns out to be roughly 270 calories per day.

This is because “added sugars” add sweetness or flavor but add very little nutritional value. Because of this trend, the food industry has embarked on a quest to find or develop the perfect substitute to replace sugar – with the same taste and none of the calories that lead to weight gain.

As a pharmacist who is also board certified in advanced diabetes management, I talk to patients every day about blood sugars and ways to help them take control of their diabetes. They often ask me whether the perfect substitute to sugar has been found. The short answer is no. Here is the long answer.

Many artificial sweeteners are available at the grocery store. Zety Akhzar/
Sugar alcohols
Sugar substitutes can be categorized into two main groups: sugar alcohols and high-intensity sweeteners. The sugar alcohols include sorbitol, xylitol, lactitol, mannitol, erythritol and maltitol. High-intensity sweeteners include saccharin, aspartame, acesulfame potassium (Ace-K), sucralose, neotame, advantame, stevia, and Siraitia grosvenorii Swingle fruit extract (SGFE).

Sugar alcohols are often found in toothpaste, chewing gum, and some “sugar-free” foods. They are carbohydrates with a chemical structure that resembles sugar, but also the components that make them an alcohol. They are about 25-100% sweeter than sugar and have a similar taste. But here is the catch: They are not calorie free. Most have between 1.5 and two calories per gram. Now compare the calorie count to sugar, also known as sucrose, which has four calories per gram – twice as much.

Which foods have a low glycemic index and are better choices for those trying to control their blood sugar. Irina Izograf

Although sugar alcohols contain fewer calories, they will still increase a patient’s blood sugar, especially when eaten in excess. When compared to sugar, the effect is less dramatic though. This is because of how these molecules are processed in the body. We measure this using the glycemic index.

The glycemic index is a reference to how quickly a food is broken down and absorbed. The higher the number, the more quickly the food breaks down and the faster the sugar goes into the blood. Sucrose has a glycemic index of 65; whereas sugar alcohols, like xylitol, have a glycemic index of around seven. This means that sugar alcohols are harder to digest, and cause a slower and lower increase in post-meal blood sugars – which is typically better for people with diabetes. Because sugar alcohols are harder for the body to break down though, some of them remain in the gut, and if a person consumes too much they may experience digestive complaints like gas, cramping and diarrhea.

Here is the other downside to foods containing sugar alcohols: They often have higher quantities of fat or salt to make up for the lower sugar content.
Artificial sweeteners

High-intensity sweeteners, are zero- or low-calorie alternatives to sugar. They are made from a variety of sources, and are 100 to 20,000 times as sweet as sugar. Some leave a bitter or metallic taste behind. Two newer substitutes – stevia and SGFE – come from plants and are at times referred to as “natural” substitutes.

According to the American Diabetes Association 2019 guidelines, the use of high-intensity sweeteners may decrease calorie and carbohydrate intake. However, you cannot replace these “free” calories with calories from other food sources, you will lose or the benefits on blood sugar control and weight loss.

Researchers have seen this in some of the studies on high-intensity sweeteners. Some of the trials show no difference or even a possible increase in weight. But in other studies where intake of food is better regulated and patients don’t replace these free calories with other high-caloric foods, the weight loss is maintained.
The takeaway

All sugar substitutes are labeled as food additives and are under the regulation of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The latest trend has been labeling some of the sugar substitutes as “derived from plants” or “natural.” That does not necessarily mean that these are safer or more effective in blood sugar control or weight loss. If it is used in excess, side effects such as bloating or diarrhea may still result.

Several concerns by researchers have been raised about high-intensity sweeteners – saccharin and aspartame – and cancer. To date, the National Cancer Institute has concluded that there is no clear evidence that any of the high-intensity sweeteners is associated with an increased risk of cancer.

As a pharmacist specializing in advanced diabetes, I talk to patients every day about how to control their blood sugar level and their diabetes. There are three main ways to do that: medication, increased activity and diet. The last two are probably more important in the long run.

If diet and activity level never change, it is really hard to help patients bring their blood sugars down. Medication after medication will likely have to be added. With this comes the potential for side effects. So if I can persuade patients to make changes to their diet, like switching to a beverage with a sugar substitute, it makes a huge difference in helping to control blood sugars and the dose of medications.

The overall focus for diabetes management should be on reducing the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages and foods. If you can switch one of these sugar-sweetened products to a food that has a high-intensity sugar substitute, that is better. But best of all is consuming food and drinks that are not highly processed and do not have added sugars.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Polar Breeze in Orlando

We had our first exposure to the Polar Breeze® product during the unusually hot week in Orlando. The Rehab Tent was outfitted with several of these machines and accompanying hoods that deliver cold air (35°F- below ambient) that rapidly cools an overheated competitor.

Since you’ve got the equivalent of 750 square feet of surface area (in the average adult male), you can dump a lot more heat through your lungs than by placing cold towels on your neck or wrists.

Post-race Firefighter Combat Challenge Competitors drop heat in the Rehab Tent while donning the Polar Breeze hoods
We’re interested in any comments that you may wish to offer by sending an email.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

The New Boss

Arcelor-Mittal Steel, feeling it was time for a shakeup, hired a new CEO. The new boss was determined to rid the company of all slackers.

On a tour of the facilities, the CEO noticed a guy leaning against a wall. The room was full of workers and he wanted to let them know that he meant business. He asked the guy, "How much money do you make a week?"

A little surprised, the young man looked at him and said, "I make $400 a week. Why?"

The CEO said, "Wait right here." He walked back to his office, came back in two minutes, and handed the guy $1,600 in cash and said, "Here's four weeks' pay. Now GET OUT and don't come back."

Feeling pretty good about himself the CEO looked around the room and asked, "Does anyone want to tell me what that goof-ball did here?"

From across the room a voice said, "Pizza delivery guy from Dominoes."

Friday, June 7, 2019

Preventative and Remedial Maintenance

Time and distance takes its toll. Sometimes repairs have to be made on the spot. Other times, when we have a respite, we can fix stuff.

Here's a couple of examples.

Carpets take a brutal toll with Rescue Randy being dragged hundreds of miles. The Road Crew has all of the equipment to do patches and fix seams.
Roger, Joey, Jim and Daniel apply their skills to joining the broken seam in Orlando

The aluminium handrails, replaceing the original steel ones do fracture and require welding with Argon gas.

Mark Bailey of Metal Specialities is fixing a fatigue crack on one of the tower handrails

Brent Davis is using a piece of sheet metal to stop the breeze from blowing out the Argon gas

Mark is grinding off the surplus slag after fixing the crack

Friday, May 24, 2019

Daniel’s Helmet has been Restored

For all of you who made a contribution to Daniel’s helmet, you’ll be pleased to know that Matt Baca led the effort to have a replacement after the original was stolen from the trunk of his car in Baltimore

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

First-ever ACSM Challenge Cup

Next week, at the Orange County Convention Center (Florida), the American College of Sports Medicine's 66th Annual Meeting will feature the 3M | Scott Firefighter Combat Challenge®.

Here's the information from the flyer

Join us for the first-ever  
ASCM Challenge Cup!

All exhibitors are urged to create a 3-5 person Relay Team to
participate in the 3M | Scott Firefighter Combat Challenge®.

The full course will be set up on the parking lot of the Rosen Centre,
adjacent to Hall A of the Orange County Convention Center.

Starting Tuesday morning, you can reserve a 30 minute practice
and trial slot by meeting us on the course or signing up at our display
in the Lobby.

Based upon your best seeding time between Tuesday - Thursday,
the top 32 teams will face off Thursday night in a NCAA-style single
elimination bracket.

• No registration fees • Helmets and gloves provided • Bring your own athletic gear 

There is a walkway between Hall A and the Orange County Convention Center
and the Rosen. The Firefighter Combat Challenge will be held on the
parking lot that is due South of the Hotel and North of I-4.

Monday, May 6, 2019

Annual Meeting, National Association of Sport Commissions

I’m here in Knoxville for the NASC meeting, where CVBs (Convention and Visitor’s Bureaus) convene to match venues with sports properties such as our own.

The opening session was hosted at the University of Tennessee’s Neyland Field.

Here’s a panoramic view of the inside of the stadium.

Friday, May 3, 2019

Yogurt & Diabetes

Dr. Suzanne’s Newsletter

Dairy is a confusing topic for many people, and so many "gurus" out there make things even more confusing with contradicting advice for the average person simply trying to eat healthy and improve their health. But in this email, I want to briefly talk about yogurt and the effect on your blood sugar and a few studies in relation to type 2 diabetes as well...

In a report published in 2014, by Frank Hu, a Harvard researcher, included about 459,000 participants in 3 studies, and showed that yogurt intake was associated with a 17% reduction in type 2 diabetes risk.

However, it's important to note that the type of yogurt must NOT be sugar-sweetened or artificially sweetened yogurt... It's vitally important to eat PLAIN, FULL-FAT yogurt (grass-fed preferably) for the most benefits.

Sweetened yogurts will do more harm than good, but a good plain full-fat yogurt has relatively low amounts of natural sugars, while also containing high quality protein and healthy fats, both of which help to control your blood sugar levels, appetite, and balance hormones. In addition, the beneficial probiotics in a good plain full-fat yogurt help to improve gut health, and can benefit diabetics in many ways due to improved digestive health. 

To make your plain full-fat yogurt taste better if you like things a little sweeter, just add a little stevia or monk fruit sweetener, and a handful of fresh or frozen berries and maybe some pumpkin seeds or nuts for a delicious and balanced lunch or snack that keeps blood sugar controlled and boosts fat loss too.

And speaking of blood sugar & diabetes... If you think that Type 2 Diabetes is irreversible like many misinformed doctors will tell you, then you need to read some of the proof below on how to naturally reverse Type 2 Diabetes... Although eating "paleo" or even low-carb is a good first step, you’ll also see below other techniques on just how simple it can be to “fix” your diabetes, control your blood sugars, and lose all of that excess fat sitting on your stomach.

1 Simple trick to REVERSE your Diabetes, naturally (while getting off drugs AND reducing abdominal fat too)

To your health,


Friday, April 19, 2019

Lloyd, Les, Ron and Paul’s Great Adventure

If you’re interested in knowing more about the River Thames in England, you might find this link fascinating.

Ron&Lloyd&Less&Pauls Great Adventure

While studying abroad in 1964-5, I and my fellow students decided to explore the river via canoe- from the source to London.

The PowerPoint presentation, created by Les Pitton has been uploaded as HTML.

Lacking GoreTex, Neoprene, Polypro, and real kayaks, we settled for fiberglass covered birch canoes, weighing in a 150 pounds.

By the account of the last lock keeper on the River, the last guy who had done this trip was a US Airman during WWII; but he started in Cricklade, missing the great fun of hauling his canoe over lad about 11 miles.

Friday, April 5, 2019

How about this statistic?

Smoking isn't the biggest global health threat. Bad diets are. A new study published in the Lancet reviewed the diets of people living in 195 countries and found that some 800 million people around the world can't get enough to eat while 1.9 billion people weigh too much.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

The World's six best doctors...worth reading twice

While this essay was wrongly attributed to Steve Jobs, it’s still a pretty good mantra for life...meaning, you would spend everything you have to get your health back, assuming that money was no object. No one is guaranteed happiness. The Declaration of Independence warrants the pursuit of happiness as an unalienable right.  Read on.

I reached the pinnacle of success in the business world. In some others' eyes, my life is the epitome of success. However, aside from work, I have little joy. In the end, my wealth is only a fact of life that I am accustomed to. At this moment, lying on my bed and recalling my life, I realize that all the recognition and wealth that I took so much pride in have paled and become meaningless in the face of my death.

You can employ someone to drive the car for you, make money for you but you cannot have someone bear your sickness for you. Material things lost can be found or replaced. But there is one thing that can never be found when it's lost - Life. Whichever stage in life you are in right now, with time, you will face the day when the curtain comes down.

Treasure love for your family, love for your spouse, love for your friends. Treat yourself well and cherish others. As we grow older, and hopefully wiser, we realize that a $300 or a $30 watch both tell the same time. You will realize that your true inner happiness does not come from the material things of this world. Whether you fly first class or economy, if the plane goes down - you go down with it.

Therefore, I hope you realize, when you have mates, buddies and old friends, brothers and sisters, who you chat with, laugh with, talk with, have sing songs with, talk about north-south-east-west or heaven and earth, that is true happiness! Don't educate your children to be rich. Educate them to be happy. So when they grow up they will know the value of things and not the price. Eat your food as your medicine, otherwise you have to eat medicine as your food.

The one who loves you will never leave you for another because, even if there are 100 reasons to give up, he or she will find a reason to hold on. There is a big difference between a human being and being human. Only a few really understand it. You are loved when you are born. You will be loved when you die. In between, you have to manage!

"The six best doctors in the world are sunlight, rest, exercise, diet, self-confidence and friends. Maintain them in all stages and enjoy a healthy life."

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Beet Juice Seen Aiding Athletic Performance

Rodrigo Pérez Ortega
Science Journalist
Carnitine, chromium, anabolic steroids: Athletes have experimented with a broad array of aids in pursuit of performance edge. A popular — if unglamorous — one today that seems safe and backed by solid data: the juice of beets, for the nitrates they contain.

Inorganic nitrate is added to cured and processed meats to extend their shelf life and give them their distinctive pink color. It’s also naturally found in spinach, arugula and beets. In the past decade, new evidence has suggested that the nitrate in these vegetables enhances athletic performance and may also increase cardiovascular health in old age.

The first clue came in 2007, when Swedish researchers reported that three days of sodium nitrate supplementation lowered the oxygen demand of nine cyclists and triathletes as they worked out, compared with a placebo of table salt. It also increased the blood plasma levels of nitrite, a byproduct of nitrate. That study caught the eye of exercise physiologist Andrew Jones of the University of Exeter in England. Usually, the oxygen demand of exercise is fixed, he says, so for a short-term intervention to change that “was unusual.”

Although it wasn’t clear how nitrate was doing what it did, Jones knew that green leafy vegetables and beets were rich sources. So he conducted a study, reported in the Journal of Applied Physiology, giving eight men active in recreational sports an equivalent amount of nitrate in a natural food source: beet juice. The volunteers consumed either 500 ml (17 ounces) of beet juice or a blackcurrant drink — which has negligible amounts of nitrate — every day for six days. Then, after a break of 10 days, the groups were switched around and drank the other drink for an additional six days.

By the last three days of the six, nitrate concentration in the blood of those drinking beet juice was almost doubled and their systolic blood pressure (which measures the pressure in your blood vessels as your heart beats) fell by an average of 6 points. The oxygen cost — the amount of oxygen consumed — when they exercised on a stationary bicycle was reduced by 19 percent. “When we asked them to continue to exercise to exhaustion, they were able to go longer,” recalls Jones, who co-wrote a review on dietary nitrates in the 2018 Annual Review of Nutrition.

From then on, research on beet juice, beet juice concentrates, whole beets and nitrate salts started to pour in.

From food to fuel
Nitrate itself doesn’t do much in the body. It first has to be converted to nitric oxide, a gas with numerous physiological roles — in blood vessel dilation, muscle contraction and transmission of nerve signals, among others. People obtain that nitric oxide in two ways: either through the action of the enzyme nitric oxide synthase, which catalyzes the amino acid L-arginine to produce it, or from nitrate ingested in food.

In the second case, dietary nitrate is first reduced to nitrite by bacteria in our mouths (athletes are counseled to avoid mouthwash, toothpaste and antibiotics before these kinds of studies). And then, over the next several hours, some of the nitrite is further reduced to nitric oxide in the gut. Nitrite also enters the blood and bodily tissues, where it is enzymatically reduced to nitric oxide.

Scientists know that this second route is enhanced under conditions when there is not enough oxygen in muscles, and when acid builds up — exactly what happens in skeletal muscle when it contracts constantly during exercise. So they hypothesize that this pathway is particularly important during exercise as a backup system to ensure that enough nitric oxide gets made in muscles and other tissues.

Once in skeletal muscle, nitric oxide can do several things. It can improve the efficiency of muscle contraction and of energy generation by mitochondria. Both of these could contribute to the lowered oxygen cost of exercise. So could the gas’s property of dilating blood vessels, as it increases blood flow to muscle.

Passing the test
Studies testing the effects of dietary nitrate in different sports are piling up. Beet juice is the preferred method of administration, since it’s a fluid and measuring the nitrate levels in it is easy. (“It’s just more convenient,” Jones says.)

In a 2011 study, for example, Jones and his team asked nine competitive male cyclists to drink 500 ml (about 17 ounces) of beetroot juice containing almost 400 mg of nitrate, 2.5 hours before starting a 4 km (about 2.5 miles) or 16.1 km (10 miles) cycling endurance test. Researchers found that the men who drank beet juice improved their performance by 2.8 percent in both tests, compared to men who drank a nitrate-depleted beet juice.

In another study, from 2015, Australian researchers gave five professional female kayakers two 70 ml (2.4 ounces) shots of beet juice, each containing about 300 mg of nitrate, two hours before a test involving kayaking one-third of a mile. Compared with a placebo, the rowers who drank beet juice improved their performance by 1.7 percent.

After many such experiments, mainly in runners and cyclists, researchers have concluded that nitrate supplementation lowers the oxygen demand of exercise and improves performance in endurance sports. They find that beet juice is most effective when drank two to three hours before exercise, and, in general, that 300 to 500 milligrams (500 mg is a bit more than two cups) of inorganic nitrate is enough to provide a 1 to 3 percent improvement in performance — significant enough to give a serious athlete a competitive edge. Solid vegetables, although they’re not generally used in such studies, can be effective, too; beetroot and spinach contain about 250 mg of nitrate per 3.5 ounces of produce.

“What intrigues me the most, I think, is the fact that a simple dietary intervention can have these significant effects,” says Andrew Coggan, an exercise physiologist at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. “And then to think that is having a direct and quantifiable impact on our muscle function is rather striking.”

While the immediate effects of nitrate on endurance are clear, researchers don’t yet know whether steadily drinking beet juice over days has stronger effects. So far, the evidence is mixed.

Researchers are also eager to know whether the juice offers an edge in other types of “explosive” sports, where power and strength are key. Sports nutrition researcher Raúl Domínguez, from the University Isabel I in Spain, recently found that about 2.4 ounces of beet juice concentrate improved the performance of 15 volunteers in a 30-second cycling sprint. Although there’s still more work to be done, “it seems that we can use it in all modalities,” Domínguez says.
The business side of beets
Although the flavor’s not to everyone’s taste (Coggan refers to it as “sweet dirt”), the hype for beet juice has grown with every new study, and one can find plenty of beet juices, concentrates, energy bars, capsules and powders that promise, or imply, enhanced performance. The International Olympic Committee’s acknowledgment last year that beet juice is a sports food with good scientific evidence to back it — along with other ergogenic aids, or endurance enhancing supplements, such as caffeine, creatine, beta-alanine and sodium bicarbonate — have only fueled beet juice enthusiasm.

But because these products are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, consumers can’t know for sure how much nitrate they contain. Last year, Coggan and an undergraduate assistant tested 24 products, from powders to concentrates and bulk juice, and found that only five contained effective levels of nitrates.

Not just for athletes
Dietary nitrate has done more than start a little revolution in the sports world. Now scientists are looking at its effect in other populations, too.

Coggan says that after he read about the studies with athletes, he thought: “If there was any patient population out there that could benefit from getting the most bang from their buck, it would be heart-failure patients.”

Could beet juice enhance the heart’s ability to deliver oxygen-carrying blood, and help keep the skeletal muscle strong, in such patients? Nitric oxide levels are lower than normal in heart-failure patients, and the scientists suspected that raising NO levels might improve function of both muscle types.

When Coggan and colleagues tested this idea in a 2015 study, they found that giving beet juice to nine patients with heart failure increased the nitric oxide levels in their breath by as much as 50 percent and their knee muscle power by as much as 11 percent. That difference might potentially improve patients’ quality of life by enabling them to more easily perform day-to-day activities such as getting out of a chair. Researchers are now looking at the potential therapeutic benefits of dietary nitrate in elderly people, as well as those who have diabetes, obesity and hypertension.

For Coggan, the fact that a single component of a healthy diet can have such a clear effect is startling: “And then you start to wonder about — well, what other components of our diet are having measurable effects, and people just haven’t made the link yet?”