For about as long as we’ve been keeping records of LODDs, sixty percent of our mortality statistics have been attributable to cardiovascular disease. Heart disease is now being eclipsed by cancer, but it is still a huge statistic both in the general populace and specifically within the fire service.
CAD (coronary artery disease) has a familial (hereditary) component and a lifestyle-related origin, meaning that it’s not contagious, nor do you “get it” acutely (instantly). Usually a person has symptoms, but not always. Coupled with hypertension, it can be a silent killer. However, one of the indices is poor fitness, which is anything but silent.
In the manual labor world of work such as construction or mining, virtually all of the heavy lifting has been assisted through hydraulics. But what differentiates fire fighting is the fact that the single heaviest object to be carried is a fellow human being and they continue to get heavier and heavier- and they don’t come with wheels or straps. It is the ability to perform arduous physical activity that differentiates firefighters from the host of other manual jobs. The weight of water is not going to change and for the foreseeable future, this is a job that requires physically capable people.
In the face of this evidence, the best that we can offer is the moniker, “Everyone Goes Home.” Part of the problem is that a lot of our people should have stayed home. Can we reasonably expect different results by continuing to do the same things over and over again?
The lack of fitness, or even a reasonable expression of fitness is evidenced in our hiring practices. Fitness, in many cases is not even a component in the selection process. We play games with people’s lives when we substitute interviews for real measures of physical ability. Imagine interviewing the place kicker for a position on an NFL team.
We spend valuable public resources in providing remedial physical fitness in recruit training rather than hiring the people who are already prepared for a career that requires stamina and strength. Published research has already demonstrated the economic benefits of a lifestyle that is based on adherence to a self-motivated program of regular physical activity.
And to cap it off, there is no expectation that firefighters “recertify” with any degree of periodicity in the area of one of the most job-related and perishable skills: physical fitness. But we do retest for CPR skills. What’s wrong with this picture? It’s pretty clear to any outside observer that physical fitness gets nothing more than lip service. Until we get serious about intervention strategies that really matter, it’d be better if we just dropped the pretext that we really care. There’s nothing so helpless as a person who won’t help himself. The bitter pill is the expectation that firefighters get out of the lazyboy and start working out.