Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Staying Alive: The Origins of Firefighter Fitness

Original High Rise Carry: MFRI, 1975
It was 1990 and we were looking for a way to objectify fitness or lack thereof in the fire service. Clearly, this was an occupation that needed standards. And while a lot of fire chiefs claimed that they had a fitness program, what was missing was proof.

How do you validate the fact that your department is actually up to the task of interior fire suppression and rescue? I mean, beyond saying “we have a fitness program.” The Fitness Target, an ingenious invention of my then program manager, Al Starck, took the constructs of fitness (strength, power, aerobic capacity, etc.) and arrayed them on multiple axes, with an objective of getting into the bullseye of the target based upon “gym tests.”

We conducted well over 100, 40 hour Certified Fitness Coordinator training programs all over the country. But, what was lacking was a link to job performance. How does an ascendancy from poor to excellent on a fitness dimension predict actual job performance? Do pushups predict job behavior at the scene of a fire?

For an answer to this question, we returned to our roots at the University of Maryland’s Fire Rescue Institute (MFRI) and our published research in the journal of the American College of Sports Medicine. The Criterion Task Test (CTT) or “Combat Test” was immediately popularized by firefighters who being somewhat competitive, began to throw down, by way of posting their times to completion. So, we skipped the arcane, hard part of what’s called Criterion-related Validity and went to Duck Validity. If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck and looks like a duck, it’s probably a duck.
First Forcible Entry Task: MFRI, 1975

Original Hose Hoist: UoM Fire Rescue Institute, 1975
Same, same with the performance of critical, arduous or frequently performed essential functions. We no longer had to argue about body fat percentages, and other more abstract predictors of fitness and simply ask applicants or incumbents to demonstrate that they had what it takes to do the job.

Fast forward to today; the Challenge now circumnavigates the globe. There is no form of testing or competition using a tower and surrogates for actual job tasks that do not have its origins in our Combat Test™. The idea of objectivity has come. A measurable standard- the time it takes to perform the essential functions of the job- since time is the enemy of all firefighters. By definition, Emergency Services embodies urgency.

For a truly rewarding experience, it’s great to carry on conversations with Challenge competitors who “get it.” Staying alive is no accident. And the safest firefighter is a fit one. Welcome to the most elite global fraternity in the universal fire service, the 3M | Scott Safety Firefighter Combat Challenge.

(Author’s note: 1975 was a time memorialized in Black and White photographs, before digitial cameras, and cameras with ringtones.)

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