Thursday, July 29, 2021

Are fruit-flavored sparkling waters bad for you? (From Kaiser-Permanente)

People can’t seem to get enough of sparkling water these days. In fact, it exploded into a $29 billion global industry in 2020.1 With no calories or sweeteners, bubbly drinks like LaCroix, Bubly, and Hint may seem like healthy no-brainers.2 But are these sparkling waters actually good for you?

According to Sean Hashmi, MD, physician and regional director of weight management and clinical nutrition for Kaiser Permanente Southern California, there are a few things to keep in mind about your favorite sparkling drinks — particularly if they’re flavored.

Are sparkling waters healthy to drink?

Even though carbonated waters have zero calories, they aren’t necessarily healthy. To get its fizz, sparkling water is made by adding pressurized carbon dioxide into water. (Basically, how a SodaStream works.) This carbonation may, in fact, make you hungrier and cause you to eat more.

“One study found that carbon dioxide in drinks caused the hunger hormone ghrelin to shoot up, leading to overeating and weight gain in rats,” says Dr. Hashmi. In the same study, carbonated drinks also increased ghrelin levels in humans.3

But many other issues arise when flavor, like lemon or grapefruit, is added to sparkling water. “To add the fruity taste, these bubbly waters typically use artificial sweeteners like stevia, aspartame, and sucralose to make it sweet,” says Dr. Hashmi. It doesn’t matter if the sweeteners have zero calories or are made from a plant, he explains. “These artificial sweeteners are problematic because they are about 200 to 20,000 times sweeter than sugar.”

“When you drink something that’s 20,000 times sweeter than sugar, it may cause cravings for unhealthy sweets — which can be difficult to overcome,” says Dr. Hashmi. It can even change your taste buds, making naturally sweet foods taste different. “When you go to eat an apple or strawberries, these naturally sweet and delicious fruits don’t taste sweet anymore,” he explains.

Beyond that, zero-calorie artificial sweeteners may increase your risk for heart disease, weight gain, and other health issues, says Dr. Hashmi: “According to one study, people who consume higher amounts of artificial sweeteners, over several decades, have a dramatically higher risk of stroke and dementia.”4
Are “natural” sparkling water flavors healthier?

If you read the ingredients of most fruity carbonated waters, they likely list water and something like “natural flavors,” but no artificial sweeteners. That’s where things get complicated.

“The word ‘natural’ is a bit of a misnomer,” says Dr. Hashmi. “This is something the food industry uses to get us to buy products — and it makes my job very difficult because people think natural means healthy.”

The reality is that food chemists make “natural flavors” in a lab, re-creating specific tastes by extracting substances from plants or animals. That’s why they’re still labeled “natural.” Unlike squeezing a lemon wedge into your carbonated water, however, natural flavors are only meant for taste, not nutrition.5,6 But companies can use the catch-all term to make their ingredient list look simple and healthy.

Regardless of how it’s listed on the label, or whether the sweetener is made from a plant, these zero-calorie artificial sweeteners may not be good for your health.
What’s a healthier way to add flavor to water?

“At the end of the day, your good old plain water is still the absolute best drink for you,” says Dr. Hashmi. If you really must have it carbonated, he recommends plain carbonated water.

“If you want to add flavor to your water, add the fruit yourself,” Dr. Hashmi says. Put in lemons, limes, berries, whatever you like. The same goes for carbonated water. If you want flavor in your bubbles, add fruit to plain seltzer water.

And if it doesn’t taste as sweet as your go-to fruity sparkling water, just give it time. “You can change your taste buds in 7 to 10 days by changing what you eat,” says Dr. Hashmi. If you give up the artificial sweeteners for 7 to 10 days, the fruit will start to taste sweeter — and your water with strawberries will taste even better.

Bottom line: “Don’t rely on artificial sweeteners or sugar substitutes,” says Dr. Hashmi. “Nature is sweet enough as is.”

Thursday, July 22, 2021

What’s in wildfire smoke? A toxicologist explains the health risks and which masks can help

Luke Montrose July 15, 2021 3.10pm EDT

Fire and health officials began issuing warnings about wildfire smoke several weeks earlier than normal this year. With almost the entire U.S. West in drought, signs already pointed to a long, dangerous fire season ahead.

Smoke is now turning the sky hazy across a large swath of the country as dozens of large fires burn, and a lot of people are wondering what’s in the air they’re breathing.

As an environmental toxicologist, I study the effects of wildfire smoke and how they differ from other sources of air pollution. We know that breathing wildfire smoke can be harmful. Less clear is what the worsening wildfire landscape will mean for public health in the future, but research is raising red flags.

In parts of the West, wildfire smoke now makes up nearly half the air pollution measured annually. A new study by the California Air Resources Board found another threat: high levels of lead and other metals turned up in smoke from the 2018 Camp Fire, which destroyed the town of Paradise. The findings suggest smoke from fires that reach communities could be even more dangerous than originally thought because of the building materials that burn.

NOAA’s smoke forecast is based on where fires were burning on July 15, 2021. NOAA

Here’s a closer look at what makes up wildfire smoke and what you can do to protect yourself and your family.

What’s in wildfire smoke?

What exactly is in a wildfire’s smoke depends on a few key things: what’s burning – grass, brush or trees; the temperature – is it flaming or just smoldering; and the distance between the person breathing the smoke and the fire producing it.

The distance affects the ability of smoke to “age,” meaning to be acted upon by the Sun and other chemicals in the air as it travels. Aging can make it more toxic. Importantly, large particles like what most people think of as ash do not typically travel that far from the fire, but small particles, or aerosols, can travel across continents.

Smoke from wildfires contains thousands of individual compounds, including carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds, carbon dioxide, hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxides. The most prevalent pollutant by mass is particulate matter less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter, roughly 50 times smaller than a grain of sand. Its prevalence is one reason health authorities issue air quality warnings using PM 2.5 as the metric.

The new study on smoke from the 2018 Camp Fire found dangerous levels of lead in smoke blowing downwind as the fire burned through Paradise, California. The metals, which have been linked to health harms including high blood pressure and developmental effects in children with long-term exposure, traveled more than 150 miles on the wind, with concentrations 50 times above average in some areas.
What does that smoke do to human bodies?

There is another reason PM2.5 is used to make health recommendations: It defines the cutoff for particles that can travel deep into the lungs and cause the most damage.

The human body is equipped with natural defense mechanisms against particles bigger than PM2.5. As I tell my students, if you have ever coughed up phlegm or blown your nose after being around a campfire and discovered black or brown mucus in the tissue, you have witnessed these mechanisms firsthand.

The really small particles bypass these defenses and disturb the air sacs where oxygen crosses over into the blood. Fortunately, we have specialized immune cells present called macrophages. It’s their job to seek out foreign material and remove or destroy it. However, studies have shown that repeated exposure to elevated levels of wood smoke can suppress macrophages, leading to increases in lung inflammation.

Dose, frequency and duration are important when it comes to smoke exposure. Short-term exposure can irritate the eyes and throat. Long-term exposure to wildfire smoke over days or weeks, or breathing in heavy smoke, can raise the risk of lung damage and may also contribute to cardiovascular problems. Considering that it is the macrophage’s job to remove foreign material – including smoke particles and pathogens – it is reasonable to make a connection between smoke exposure and the risk of viral infection.

Recent evidence suggests that long-term exposure to PM2.5 may make the coronavirus more deadly. A nationwide study found that even a small increase in PM2.5 from one U.S. county to the next was associated with a large increase in the death rate from COVID-19.

What can you do to stay healthy?

Here’s the advice I would give
e just about anyone downwind from a wildfire.

Stay informed about air quality by identifying local resources for air quality alerts, information about active fires and recommendations for better health practices.

If possible, avoid being outside or doing strenuous activity, like running or cycling, when there is an air quality warning for your area.

Wildfire smoke pours over palm trees lining a street in Azusa, California, on Aug. 13, 2020. AP Images/Marcio Jose Sanchez

Be aware that not all face masks protect against smoke particles. Most cloth masks will not capture small wood smoke particles. That requires an N95 mask that fits and is worn properly. Without a proper fit, N95s do not work as well.

Establish a clean space. Some communities in western states have offered “clean spaces” programs that help people take refuge in buildings with clean air and air conditioning. However, during the pandemic, being in an enclosed space with others can create other health risks. At home, a person can create clean and cool spaces using a window air conditioner and a portable air purifier.

The Environmental Protection Agency also advises people to avoid anything that contributes to indoor air pollutants. That includes vacuuming that can stir up pollutants, as well as burning candles, firing up gas stoves and smoking.

Saturday, July 17, 2021

Still Doubting the efficacy of the Vaccine?

From an astute and well-educated friend:

To all my otherwise very intelligent friends and family, who do not trust the coronavirus vaccines. I fully understand that you truly believe what you are thinking and, in some cases, have found sites and authorities that support your beliefs. I would ordinarily just shrug and say the outcome is Darwinian, except that, especially my family, I treasure you too much not to make an effort to convince you. Younger people do not just “pass-through” this disease with relatively minor discomfort. The Delta variant is killing younger folks at an alarming rate, particularly conservatives in southern states. Older people who have received the vaccines are not dying or even being hospitalized. Those are not made-up statistics. I am conservative, received my second Pfizer shot last February and I am very much still alive. If a booster shot is needed, I will be first in line for it. Please consider this!

The vaccine is safe.
Hello, there has been a lot of misinformation concerning the development of the SARS-Cov-2 vaccine developed by Pfizer and Moderna. I just went online and asked a simple question, " when was MRNA discovered"? Here are the facts and I hope those who think that this science is not safe to go online and do a little due diligence. 1961. mRNA is discovered at Cal Tech. Research has been ongoing for Sixty years in this subject. Moving on to the pandemic, it appears there was some luck involved in getting this vaccine out as quickly as it happened.

A. A lot of research was already in the pipeline concerning similar respiratory viruses. Scientists were NOT starting from scratch.

B. The federal government addressed the time-consuming processes of the trial setup, funding, etc. These processes were streamlined for efficiency savings.

C. Luck. SARS-Cov-2 is not complicated when compared to HIV or Dengue virus. Scientists sequenced the genetic code quickly. They plugged it into an experimental system already developed for other viruses, including Respiratory Syncytial Viruses ( RSV). This system was created more than a decade ago. Most vaccines use a weakened virus which takes much longer to process. That is why the quickest vaccine to date took four years to develop. These vaccines are genetically derived and the time period was much less to develop. Add to that the huge government funding and the science community dropping most everything else to work on this one project and the time period to develop these vaccines was incredibly shortened. Clinical trials are still underway as there is only an " emergency use " approval so far. But all data suggests that this is a safe vaccine as hundreds of millions of people have taken at least one does this far. Scientists expect full approval soon.

Finally, the latest data from the CDC is that 99.2% of all new cases of covid are those who have not been vaccinated. The latest variant of this virus is a more infectious and deadly strain and I leave it to all those who are resisting getting vaccinated to think long and hard on this. Please just type in a question about these vaccines and read up on the real facts, not opinions on ND.

Saturday, July 10, 2021

An Unlikely Hero: the Marine who found two WTC survivors

Rebecca Liss- September 11, 2015
 (I came across this story- remembering having heard it many years ago. A longer read- but well worth it.)

Dave Karnes
Photo courtesy Marines magazine/Department of Defense

On the first anniversary of 9/11, with the attacks still fresh in the minds of many Americans, Slate shared the story of a retired Marine who responded to the attacks on the World Trade Center and found two survivors. In honor of the anniversary, the article is reprinted below.

Only 12 survivors were pulled from the rubble of the World Trade Center after the towers fell on Sept. 11, 2001, despite intense rescue efforts. Two of the last three to be located and saved were Port Authority police officers. They were not discovered by a heroic firefighter, or a rescue worker, or a cop. They were discovered by Dave Karnes.

Karnes hadn’t been near the World Trade Center. He wasn’t even in New York when the planes hit the towers. He was in Wilton, Conn., working in his job as a senior accountant with Deloitte Touche. When the second plane hit, Karnes told his colleagues, “We’re at war.” He had spent 23 years in the Marine Corps infantry and felt it was his duty to help. Karnes told his boss he might not see him for a while.

Then he went to get a haircut.

The small barbershop in Stamford, Conn., near his home, was deserted. “Give me a good Marine Corps squared-off haircut,” he told the barber. When it was done, he drove home to put on his uniform. Karnes always kept two sets of Marine fatigues hanging in his closet, pressed and starched. “It’s kind of weird to do, but it comes in handy,” he says. Next Karnes stopped by the storage facility where he kept his equipment—he’d need rappelling gear, ropes, canteens of water, his Marine Corps K-Bar knife, and a flashlight, at least. Then he drove to church. He asked the pastor and parishioners to say a prayer that God would lead him to survivors. A devout Christian, Karnes often turned to God when faced with decisions.

Finally, Karnes lowered the convertible top on his Porsche. This would make it easier for the authorities to look in and see a Marine, he reasoned. If they could see who he was, he’d be able to zip past checkpoints and more easily gain access to the site. For Karnes, it was a “God thing” that he was in the Porsche—a Porsche 911—that day. He’d only purchased it a month earlier—it had been a stretch, financially. But he decided to buy it after his pastor suggested that he “pray on it.” He had no choice but to take it that day because his Mercury was in the shop. Driving the Porsche at speeds of up to 120 miles per hour, he reached Manhattan—after stopping at McDonald’s for a hamburger—in the late afternoon.

His plan worked. With the top off, the cops could see his pressed fatigues, his neatly cropped hair, and his gear up front. They waved him past the barricades. He arrived at the site—“the pile”—at about 5:30. Building 7 of the World Trade Center, a 47-story office structure adjacent to the fallen twin towers, had just dramatically collapsed. Rescue workers had been ordered off the pile—it was too unsafe to let them continue. Flames were bursting from a number of buildings, and the whole site was considered unstable. Standing on the edge of the burning pile, Karnes spotted … another Marine dressed in camouflage. His name was Sgt. Thomas. Karnes never learned his first name, and he’s never come forward in the time since.

Together Karnes and Thomas walked around the pile looking for a point of entry farther from the burning buildings. They also wanted to move away from officials trying to keep rescue workers off the pile. Thick, black smoke blanketed the site. The two Marines couldn’t see where to enter. But then “the smoke just opened up.” The sun was setting and through the opening Karnes, for the first time, saw clearly the massive destruction. “I just said ‘Oh, my God, it’s totally gone.’ ” With the sudden parting of the smoke, Karnes and Thomas entered the pile. “We just disappeared into the smoke—and we ran.”

They climbed over the tangled steel and began looking into voids. They saw no one else searching the pile—the rescue workers having obeyed the order to leave the area. “United States Marines,” Karnes began shouting. “If you can hear us, yell or tap!”

Over and over, Karnes shouted the words. Then he would pause and listen. Debris was shifting and parts of the building were collapsing further. Fires burned all around. “I just had a sense, an overwhelming sense come over me that we were walking on hallowed ground, that tens of thousands of people could be trapped and dead beneath us,” he said.

After about an hour of searching and yelling, Karnes stopped.

“Be quiet,” he told Thomas, “I think I can hear something.”

He yelled again. “We can hear you. Yell louder.” He heard a faint muffled sound in the distance.

“Keep yelling. We can hear you.” Karnes and Thomas zeroed in on the sound.

“We’re over here,” they heard.

Two Port Authority police officers, Will Jimeno and Sgt. John McLoughlin were buried in the center of the World Trade Center ruins, 20 feet below the surface. They could be heard but not seen. By jumping into a larger opening, Karnes could hear Jimeno better. But he still couldn’t see him. Karnes sent Thomas to look for help. Then he used his cellphone to call his wife, Rosemary, in Stamford and his sister Joy in Pittsburgh. (He thought they could work the phones and get through to New York Police Department headquarters.)

“Don’t leave us,” Jimeno pleaded. He later said he feared Karnes’ voice would trail away, as had that of another potential rescuer hours earlier. It was now about 7 p.m. and Jimeno and McLoughlin had been trapped for roughly nine hours. Karnes stayed with them, talking to them until help arrived, in the form of Chuck Sereika, a former paramedic with an expired license who put pulled his old uniform out of his closet and came to the site. Ten minutes later, Scott Strauss and Paddy McGee, officers with the elite Emergency Service Unit of the NYPD, also arrived.

The story of how Strauss and Sereika spent three hours digging Jimeno out of the debris, which constantly threatened to collapse, has been well told in the New York Times and elsewhere. At one point, all they had with which to dig out Jimeno were a pair of handcuffs. Karnes stood by, helping pass tools to Strauss, offering his Marine K-Bar knife when it looked as if they might have to amputate Jimeno’s leg to free him. (After Jimeno was finally pulled out, another team of cops worked for six more hours to free McLoughlin, who was buried deeper in the pile.)

Karnes left the site that night when Jimeno was rescued and went with him to the hospital. While doctors treated the injured cop, Karnes grabbed a few hour's sleep on an empty bed in the hospital psychiatric ward. While he slept, the hospital cleaned and pressed his uniform.

* * *

Today, on the anniversary of the attack and the rescue, officers Jimeno and Strauss will be part of the formal “Top Cop” ceremony at the New York City Center Theater. Earlier the two appeared on a nationally televised episode of America’s Most Wanted. Jimeno and McLoughlin appeared this week on the Today show. They are heroes.

Today, Dave Karnes will be speaking at the Maranatha Bible Baptist Church in Wilkinsburg, Pa., near where he grew up. He sounds excited, over the phone, talking about the upcoming ceremony. Karnes is a hero, too.

But it’s also clear Karnes is a hero in a smaller, less national, less public, less publicized way than the cops and firefighters are heroes. He’s hardly been overlooked—the program I work for, 60 Minutes II, interviewed him as part of a piece on Jimeno’s rescue—but the great televised glory machine has so far not picked him. Why? One reason seems obvious—the cops and firefighters are part of big, respected, institutional support networks. Americans are grateful for the sacrifices their entire organizations made a year ago. Plus, the police and firefighting institutions are tribal brotherhoods. The firefighters help and support and console each other; the cops do the same. They find it harder to make room for outsiders like Karnes (or Chuck Sereika). And, it must be said, at some macho level it’s vaguely embarrassing that the professional rescuers weren’t the ones who found the two survivors. While the pros were pulled back out of legitimate caution, the job fell to an outsider, who drove down from Connecticut and just walked onto the burning pile.

Columnist Stewart Alsop once famously identified two rare types of soldiers, the “crazy brave” and the “phony tough.” The professionals at Ground Zero—I interviewed dozens in my work as a producer for CBS—were in no way phony toughs. But Karnes does seem a bit “crazy brave.” You’d have to be slightly abnormal—abnormally selfless, abnormally patriotic—to do what he did. And some of the same qualities that led Karnes to make himself a hero when it counted may make him less perfect as the image of a hero today.

Strauss tells a story that gets at this. When he was out on the pile a year ago, trying to pull Jimeno free, Strauss shouted orders to his volunteer helpers—“Medic, I need air,” or “Marine, get me some water.” At one point, in the middle of this exhausting work, Strauss, asked if he could call them by their names to facilitate the process. The medic said he was “Chuck.”

Karnes said: “You can call me ‘staff sergeant.’ “

“That’s three syllables!” said Strauss, who needed every bit of energy and every second of time. “Isn’t there something shorter?”

Karnes replied: “You can call me ‘staff sergeant.’ “

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Donny Leonard Strikes not Gold, but Iron

 If you’re short on resources for building out the props for the Challenge, try this. Donnie Leonard has a “Low-Cost Keiser.” 

Click Here for the Vimeo File

Friday, June 25, 2021

You Heard It Here First

Some background...

Retired Fire Chief Randy Bruegman has headed departments in Illinois (Hoffman Estates) where I first met him while developing a Physical Ability Test for that organization; then followed tenures in Oregon, followed by Fresno and Anaheim, California. 

He now hosts a podcast entitled Fired Up and Plugged In. You can view my participation here. Or, Spotify.

It was an honor to spend some time with Randy, discussing the origins of the Firefighter Challenge- taking me all the way back to my tenure at the University of Maryland's School of Public Health, Sports Medicine Center under the aegis of the School of Kinesiology. 

Hopefully, we can reduce some of the confusion of who exactly invented the Challenge. Simply stated, there is no form of climbing under load, hoisting, forcible entry, hose advance and victim rescue other than the Intellectual Property (IP) protected by Federally and EU Registered Trademarks and Copyrights that were created by me. 

While imitation is the highest form of flattery, when you steal and claim it as your own, we would hope that being exposed would result in some embarrassment- at the least. 

Understand, the research that is the underpinning of the Challenge has its roots in my career in the fire service that started in June of 1966. The Five Essential Tasks™ were created in 1975. I don't think that any of the current pirates were even out of diapers during this epoch. 

These knock-offs hurt the brand, especially when claims for owning "World Records" as well as confuse the public who might not be astute in their understanding of what is the real Challenge. 

People who play by the rules own a license to run events that are compliant with the Official Rules as published on our website: 

If you'd like to know more details on how you can join the consortium of licensees, feel free to reach out by email or telephone. 

Thursday, June 10, 2021

Be Happy for Small Things

Spend a few moments watching this video from America's Got Talent and whatever minor annoyances you have will quickly disappear.

You might need a tissue handy as you watch this amazing performance by Nightbirde of her original song “It’s Okay” on Americas’ Got Talent. Jane Marczewski is thirty years old and has been fighting cancer for several years. She only has a 2% chance of survival but she is not letting it stop her from living her dream and singing on America’s Got Talent.

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

All the Reasons Why It Has Never Been Harder to Be an MLB Hitter

What happens in the first month of a given Major League Baseball season isn't necessarily indicative of what will happen in the next five months, yet the 2021 campaign has already birthed an alarming trend.

Hitting, which was already notoriously difficult to begin with, is now basically impossible.

After more than a month's worth of games, hitters are tracking toward yet another strikeout record by whiffing in 24.3 percent of their plate appearances. They're also maintaining a .233 batting average, the lowest mark in the league's 150-year history.

Based on these numbers, there's never been a worse time to be a hitter in Major League Baseball. And while it might be easy to wave them off as small-sample-size weirdness, they begin to look more like an unavoidable fate as specific causes pile up.

The New Ball Is (Probably) Suppressing Home Runs

For anyone who missed the big news back in February, there's a new ball in play this year.

Contrary to the lively balls that helped facilitate record-setting home run outbursts in recent seasons, the new ball was effectively designed to curb home runs. It's lighter, but also less bouncy and supposedly more prone to drag in the air.

So far, it seems to be working as intended.

Overall, hitters have made gains with their overall fly-ball rate (25.1 percent) and on their average exit velocity on fly balls (92.6 mph). Yet even when compared to past Aprils, there's a conspicuous gap between the expected and actual performance of fly balls this season:Data courtesy of Baseball Savant

This helps explain why the league is hitting 1.16 home runs per game, compared to recent high-water marks of 1.28 in 2020, 1.39 in 2019 and 1.26 in 2017.

Could this be a fluke? Maybe. Or perhaps a cold-weather thing? Also, maybe.

Yet according to Devan Fink of FanGraphs, hitters are specifically losing home runs on batted balls with lower launch angles. That makes sense because, as he writes, "A baseball with more drag would, in theory, affect these types of events the most."

So if the idea is to hit for power—which it very much is in modern baseball—the standard hitter is in a frustrating spot right now in which the execution is good, but the rewards are artificially elusive.

The New Ball Also Seems to Be Leading to More Strikes

When news of the less lively ball first broke in February, pitchers were surely happy to hear it. And they now seem to be taking full advantage by challenging hitters at will.

So far in 2021, 49.3 percent of all pitches have ended up in the strike zone. That's the highest such mark of the pitch tracking era, which began in 2008.

Unsurprisingly, this is helping to push the league's walk rate down to 8.9 percent. That's by no means a historically low rate, but it's at least down from last year's mark of 9.2 percent.

Pitchers Are Also Nastier

By upping their swing rate relative to 2020, hitters have rightfully determined that the best way to combat pitchers' increased aggressiveness is with increased aggressiveness of their own.

However, many of these swings are going to waste. Hitters are missing on 27.1 percent of their swings, which is yet another high for the pitch-tracking era. Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

Lest anyone launch into a rant about how hitters need to wind the clock back and focus on making contact instead of swinging for the fences, understand that pitchers deserve their share of credit for all the whiffs.

The average fastball in 2021 is 92.7 mph, with 24.6 percent of all heaters clocking at 95 mph or higher. These, too, are new highs for the pitch-tracking era.

Meanwhile, the league's average spin rate is still trending up:
2015: 2,127 RPM
2016: 2,196 RPM
2017: 2,219 RPM
2018: 2,226 RPM
2019: 2,253 RPM
2020: 2,260 RPM
2021: 2,275 RPM

Because more spin tends to equal more movement, pitchers have an obvious incentive to chase after it. And while it's easy and oh-so-tempting to chalk the rising spin rate up to pitchers ignoring MLB's crackdown on sticky substances, there's another possible explanation for this year's trend.

Take it away, San Diego Padres ace Blake Snell:

The implication here is that the new ball is inherently easier to spin, which hypothetically means that the spin rate will stay up even if Thanos were to come along and snap all sticky substances out of existence.

On Defensive Shifts and Day Games

Even apart from the new ball, hitters still have other disadvantages to contend within 2021. Defensive shifts, for example.

Teams are using them on the infield less often than they did in 2020, but with greatly improved efficiency. There's a 47-point gap between the actual (.213) and expected (.260) batting average on ground balls against shifted and strategic infields, which is easily the biggest such mark of the seven-year Statcast era.

And if you've been wondering if there's been an unusually high number of day games in 2021, that's because there have been.

Whereas somewhere between 30 and 35 percent of the action (i.e., plate appearances) in a normal season takes place in day games, this year it's 43.3 percent. That may be getting to hitters, whose production hasn't been the same during the day as it has been at night: Data courtesy of Baseball Reference

This almost certainly isn't a complete list of factors behind the struggles that hitters are having early in the 2021 season, but it'll do as a greatest hits compilation. And in any case, the big question is...

What Comes Next?

In all likelihood, probably more of the same.

Unless MLB is going to reverse course and replace all of the new balls with balls from previous seasons, batted balls are likely to continue underperforming while pitchers keep filling up the zone with high-velocity, high-spin pitches.

As for the defensive shift, it's notable that MLB is already experimenting with regulating shifts at the minor league level in 2021. And frankly, it's a good idea. Nonetheless, regulations on shifts are likely years, not months, away from being a reality at the major league level.

Which is to say that hitters are going to have to keep doing the same thing and hope for better results, or perhaps make some changes so as to avoid all-time offensive infamy.

It would make for a fascinating story if hitters moved en masse through Door No. 2, but don't count on it. Because as rough as this year has been, it hasn't exactly been a 1968-level disaster from either a home run or runs scored perspective. Between that and the reality that warmer weather will help balls carry, hitters have two good reasons to stick to stay the proverbial course.

However, the 2021 season could lead to changes for the long run.

If nothing else, it could further move the needle in favor of policing shifts. It could also convince MLB that more work is needed to bring the ball to an agreeable middle ground. For instance, there might at least be a way to make the current ball less conducive to spin.

Until then, it's about time everyone made peace with the likelihood that the 2021 season is going to be one for the books. Even if it's one that hitters will never, ever want to revisit.

Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference, FanGraphs and Baseball Savant.

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

The After Action Report (AAR) from Joint Base Langley Eustis (Virginia) 22-24 June 2021

Here’s the set of first impressions from our tenure at JBLE, 19-24 May, 2021:

The MWR shop was a pleasure to work with; they could not have been better organized and more accommodating. 

They produced rosters with contact information and made every attempt within their power to optimize our tenure. In the aggregate, we had approximately 500 runs on the course. They even made phone calls to check up on stragglers.

The sponsors all appeared to be pleased with the event- both in terms of the population and their position on the course. There was a lot of foot traffic generated for the free stuff- products that I had never heard of but would not have likely survived absent the calories of energy from some healthy alternatives to Red Bull.

We started as early as 0500 and ran until 1800. Very few hours were not used to maximize our throughput.

Coming out of a nearly two-year, COVID-enforced quarantine, it was good that we had 3 days to find all the pieces and parts and resurrect the course.

We powered up our impressive sound system and heard a loud “pop” in the amp. This was on Friday afternoon. I started with a search of Craigslist, finding no replacements turned to eBay. Found the exact model in a pawn shop in Fredericksburg. With closing time fast approaching, I needed to consummate the the deal before 1700 so Brent could pick up the unit on the way down Friday. Brent went to the office and brought with him our old Crate unit (≈1,000 watts, RMS), but we weren’t’ sure that it actually functioned. We swapped out the older QSC for the replacement, tested the Craig and now have it rack-mounted as a back up. Whew.

The “Best Time” is, of course, a constant topic of interest. Since we have gone back to our original requirement to touch all the crossbars on the “Battle Bars” the times set by USMC E-5s Verity and Cox need asterisks. These two incredible athletes have an amazing wing-span and resemble orangutans by touching the first bar, leaping to the middle bar and one-swing later are done.

There was a $500 purse for top man and women that did provide some motivation. I also believe that the top 3 male/females would be nominated for an Army achievement medal.

Being in front of the Commissary (see the 180° view: was a great location for a lot of reasons. While the Airmen who delivered the bleachers were refractory to any direction for placement by MWR, (we wanted them to assume the Box Seat-3rd Base Line position), it was great to have a cheering session. On Saturday, 80 troops were assigned the role of calling penalties for anyone who showed the muzzle of the AR-15 through the mouse-hole shot. Did they LOVE that mission. It was hilarious. Especially when they were able to gig their drill sergeant. The only thing missing were the cabbages or rotten tomatoes that they could have hurled onto the course. And then, the DI failed to set his rifle on “Safe’ a two-second penalty. The place went wild.

I could not have been more pleased with our new shooting solution. We are no longer dependent upon any outside organization. The Mantis-X Blackbeard performed flawlessly. Best of all, being a laser in the green-light spectrum, shooters had instant, positive feedback on target acquisition. The yellow ScotchLite target, approximately one-foot square was not unlike an LED when struck by the beam. In our prior experience with the IR- shooters did not have the same level of confidence (nor did we).

The sound-effects however did not work- a minor point. Turns out that the 3M product is designed to return almost all of the energy from the point of origin. Our smart phone monitors that produce the rifle report (and brass hitting the ground) needed a scatter effect to activate. So, we’ll figure this out for next time.

We have assembled our own inventory of AR-15s and were provided gun cases by our sponsor SKB cases.

I had conversations with the Four-Star (Paul Funk II) and and the Two-Star (MG Lonnie Hibbard) Generals who were both effusive in their praise and wanted to see more of us. In fact MWR has already requested a return engagement next year. We had extended conversations about the ACFT and the value of the Battle Challenge in affirming the validity of the test components. A considerable amount of our conversation was a topic close to my heart: scientifically validated performance standards (where the mission comes first and the social engineering follows).

No known loss-time injuries- including the free-fall of Eddie the Eagle, the flightless base mascot bird (now on Vimeo: click here: A few of the participants were hurling on the trees on the median strips post-event. But that always happens. Cops and firefighters, even wives(and their progeny) took a turn. Some of the MWR people never held a rifle and were pleasantly pleased to hit the target with very little instruction. No bang or recoil removes some of the hesitancy to pulling the trigger.
Getting Help From the Boys

I spent a lot of time talking to the participants and never met a finer bunch of engaging people from all over the place. It’s great to hear how they got to where they are. A Captain was wearing a Surface Warfare Qual Badge- something you don’t see every day. He was prior Navy and wanted to be a frogman. When his time came, they cancelled the BUDS class so he transferred to the Army to go into SpecOps.

We are working on a punch list for the future. Handing out numbers might help eliminate having to stand in a very long line. Also, developing a system that captures Rank and Name - such that can be conveyed to our announcer would be a nice touch. The sweetest thing to the ear is hearing one’s name over the PA; (assuming that it’s not in connection with an indictment.) Huan did yeomen’s work keeping everyone informed and the competitors motivated.

LTC Carl Ey, USA (ret) to his credit, pulled this together. I have no idea as to the finances. He’s already cut the check and asked that we hold it until he gets his money this week. Good news.

We’ll have photos and videos going up. Brent did a live-feed to Facebook.

Here’s the piece d’restance: The fastest time was posted by a member of the Montgomery (AL) Fire Department’s World Record Holder Firefighter Combat Challenge® Team Blue. Cody Thompson is a Guardsman and was on post for AIT. A blistering 1:26. I have the splits elsewhere and will put out more information on this topic. The best time for a female as 2:10. She was impressive; clearly a 6-sigma performance and didn’t even look winded. The next closest female was a minute and ten seconds slower.

The ABC local affiliate did a nice piece: and the Virginia Pilot wrote an article. (

We have video of these runs and will put it up on the website and Vimeo. Cody never expended one calorie more than required to surmount any obstacle.

One of the take-aways is the ability to find the Alpha Males vs. the suits doing their version of “mandatory fun”. If you needed a seletion tool for motivation, this is it. From the siren start, the hard chargers do exactly that: charge hard in a full-on sprint down the carpet.

We now have established our sea legs, document via photography and video all of the set-up and protocols.

I could write a lot more - and I will- of lessons learned and look forward to our next outing to implement the tweaks.

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Highway to Hell

This video is self-explanatory.  Maybe you've run a similar call, but I suspect nothing quite like this. An unsecured load of LPG in a flatbed on a freeway, in Russia. What could possibly go wrong?

Click Here

Sunday, May 16, 2021

John William Tully, A Man Among Men

John Tully, former Fire Service Marketing Manager for Scott passed this life on Monday, May 10, 2021, at his home in Lawrenceville, GA. He was 74 and died of a massive heart attack, with no warning and a clean bill of health from his recent medical checkup. 

The fact that his sister has recently also died in a similar set of circumstances seemingly validates the familial increased risk for CAD.

John was a great believer in the Challenge for its emphasis on personal fitness. He earned a length of service retirement with the Columbus (OH) Fire Department, topping out as a Captain.

Along the way, John was awarded a Bachelor's Degree in Marketing, which put him in good sted with Scott.

During the troubled year of 1996 when the IAFF was attempting to thwart the popularity of the Challenge, John, an imposing figure and card-carrying member of the IAFF engaged in verbal combat with Union membership and their myopic viewpoint on personal fitness. 

He was the inspiration behind Scott going on record extolling the benefits of a highly spirited, job-related competition that validated the value of above-average levels of fitness where no standards existed. 

In retirement, John provided security for the Gwinnett Arena, Ameris Bank and and Amphitheater and the Roxy. John would greet the touring entertainers and ensconce them around the city. John was the kind of guy with whom people felt that they knew him instantly. 

John was a Vietnam veteran, having served in the Air Force and an ardent patriot who called out draft dodgers. 

John spoke constantly of his love for his family- wife Cathie and daughters for their athletic prowess. 

While John had been a regular fixture at FDIC, upon retirement we had to settle for phone calls about twice per year. 

John's devotion and dedication to the fire service never abated. We keep looking down the pipeline for a replacement- but guys of his type are hard to come by. 

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

2,000 Calories and 10,000 Steps a Day Is Probably All You Need to Be Healthy, According to Experts

By Jessica Stillman

INC Magazine

If you've packed on a few pandemic pounds in the last year, you're not alone. Since stay-at-home orders began last year 42 percent of Americans have gained weight, averaging an additional 29 pounds each. And while some folks used the disruption in their schedules to start new healthy habits, many of us discovered being stuck in the house with hoarded snacks and a lot of stress isn't great for fitness.

Now with a less virus-constrained summer beckoning, many Americans are looking down and thinking it might be a good time to recommit to a healthy lifestyle. If that's you -- and particularly if you're more likely to meet the idea of returning to the gym with groans and cheers -- there is an article you really need to read.

10,000 and 2,000

Written by Graham Isador for GQ, it tells the tale of a group of his friends who banded together to tackle their pandemic pounds with a simple commitment: each member agreed to walk 10,000 steps and eat no more than 2,000 calories a day.

How far did this modest-sounding fitness plan get the group? A lot farther that you'd probably predict. "After four months following those guidelines, my friend dropped 43 pounds. Collectively the group chat was down 105. Those are life-changing, infomercial-pitch numbers," reports Isador.

Surprised by the effectiveness of what could be seen as a slacker's approach to fitness, Isador surveys experts to see if his friends' simple strategy could really be so effective or if there were any hidden downsides.

A long list of caveats...

He certainly rounds up a hefty list of caveats. Ten thousand steps, for instance, is a random number made up by fitness gadget manufacturers, not a number imbued by the universe with magical health-giving properties. Consider recommendations to walk 10,000 steps to basically translate to 'walk a fair amount at a decent pace.'

Consistency is also key, the experts stress, and as humans are incredibly diverse, different people will see different results. No solution, even one this straightforward, is right for everyone.

Nor is this program going to get you ready for a marathon or a fitness magazine cover shoot. Expect dad bod not Arnold Schwarzenegger. Finally, the evidence that some kind of resistance exercise like weight training has specific mental and physical benefits is strong enough that you should definitely consider adding some to your routine.

... but no excuses.

But all that being said, the experts also agree that just walking 10,000 steps a day and eating whatever amount of calories the FDA recommends for someone of your age, build, and gender (generally around 2,000) will get you a whole lot further towards basic health and fitness than you probably think.

"Walking is probably the single most underutilized tool in health and wellness," personal trainer Jeremy Fernandes tells Isador. "Most people want to believe that working out and fat loss needs to be hard. If you need impossibly crushing workouts to get in better shape, then you're not responsible when you fail, but a basic program performed consistently--even a half-assed effort done consistently--can bring you a really long way."

So if you want to get back to your old energy levels and into last year's pants, consider Isador's article both a call to action and a massive excuse buster. The good news is getting back in decent shape is simple. The (sort of) bad news is, barring any big physical or psychological impediments, you now have no reason not to get started.

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

What Happened to Society’s Obligation to its Police Agencies?

Posted on April 15, 2021 by admin

By Chief Joel F. Shults, Ed.D

The past year has seen major efforts to tear up the agreements that make for an orderly society. The idea of a social contract arose during the Enlightenment and had an influence on the founding principles of the United States. The social contract is defined as an implicit agreement among the members of a society to cooperate for social benefits, for example by sacrificing some individual freedom for state protection. The essential civics lesson about our nation’s founding is that government arises from the consent of the governed. People decide collectively what is in the best interests of the majority to accomplish together what would not be possible individually. In return, the people agree to abide by those laws. In return for compliance, the government established by the people create systems that guarantee individual rights and processes to honor and enforce them against government overreach.

Another important aspect of consenting to be governed is that individuals agree to give up resolving most serious disputes on their own and let a system of courts accomplish justice. This necessarily means giving the government the right to exercise force in accomplishing that. Thus, we give rise to enforcers of the law. Armed agents of the government, operating with the authorization to use reasonable force, expect that citizens will submit to that authorized force as part of their social contract with their fellow citizens.

The American spirit of individualism and rebellion was not lost at the last battle of the American Revolution in 1781. As the number of law enforcement agencies grew, so too did the laws that regulated them. Many states recognized the right of citizens to resist unlawful arrests. With the advance of multiple civil remedies and greater training of police, most laws allowing resistance to arrest were removed in favor of other remedies. Every state requires compliance with lawful orders, and every governmental body is subject to the vote of the people. If laws and lawmakers are inadequate, there are means of circumventing the legislature through petition.

Not accepted as a natural right was violence against private property, violent resistance to government actors, and attacks on the systems in place to govern. Implicit in the early writings of the American Revolution era is the expectation that if the government fails in providing essential services and protecting individual liberties, then the government may be reconstituted. Within the bounds of philosophy are those extremists who believe we have reached that point and deserve another revolution, and those who believe in either anarchy or extreme government control.

With tyranny fresh on the minds of the founders, the right of citizens to possess firearms was ensured among other rights, including the right against torture as expressed in the right to remain silent, and the right to reasonableness when subject to search and seizure. As any student of history knows, these rights in the U.S. Constitution as amended with the Bill of Rights, were rights that existed by nature and were not derived from laws passed by men. The documents simply articulate those rights as those which were not to be infringed by the government, including state and local entities.

Witnessing the violence and destruction of this year’s riots must call us to remember the good work of the founders, and those who have worked selflessly to keep our republic functioning. Despite the critics, our nation has made important strides toward increasing access to success and removing impediments to the quest for fair treatment for all. Ignoring that progress, as faulty or slow it may be, has resulted in the chaos we see daily. Especially in regions where the law has been disregarded, where criminals are encouraged, where the legitimacy of governance has been eroded by its own weakness, the deconstruction of our republic is being approved by political leaders too afraid to believe in their own system.

By attacking the criminal justice system, because it is the most visible of all government functions, the real objective is to attack our Constitutional government, taking a shortcut from due process and civil discourse as agents of change.

Piece by piece, legislators are caving to the demands of deconstructionists to dismantle the effectiveness of enforcing the law. Police officers are banned from enforcing some existing laws, prosecutors are declining to hold violent offenders accountable, and lawmakers are removing necessary tactical and legal protections from law enforcement officers. The lawbreakers among us have taken this as a license to disregard police authority which has resulted in almost all of the dramatic uses of force to take custody of violent offenders. Offenders are not blamed for fighting and fleeing from officers, and officers are blamed for doing what they must do. The only hope for restoring the protection of the citizenry within the framework of justice is to allow our existing resources to work, return to educating the public about the philosophy and structure of our democracy, and restraining ill-advised and radical decisions by removing foolish leaders from office.

Sunday, April 18, 2021

$2.2 million agreement reached over Pa. State Police fitness test lawsuit claimed discriminated against women

Updated  April 18, 2021; Today 3:09 PM

The U.S. Department of Justice and the Pennsylvania State Police have reached a settlement agreement in a 2014 lawsuit that said the PSP's entry-level fitness test was discriminatory against women. This file photo from 2014 shows cadets in a fitness session held for the media at the Pennsylvania State Police Academy in Hershey. (Christine Baker/PennLive).

By Steve Marroni |

The U.S. Department of Justice reached a $2.2 million settlement agreement with Pennsylvania and the Pennsylvania State Police over a 2014 claim that the state police use of physical tests as part of the entry-level hiring process for state troopers resulted in a pattern or practice of employment discrimination against women.

In the suit, the Justice Department argued the use of the tests to screen and select applicants for the entry-level positions resulted in a much greater percentage of male applicants than female applicants passing the physical fitness tests going back to 2003.

As a result, the state police had failed to hire dozens of women for entry-level trooper positions on an equal basis with men, the Justice Department argued in the suit, saying this amounted to a pattern of employment discrimination against women, violating Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

“Employers cannot impose selection criteria that unfairly screen out qualified female applicants,” Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Pamela S. Karlan of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division said in a press release Tuesday. “When the Pennsylvania State Police use a physical fitness test as part of the process for choosing state troopers, they must ensure that the test complies with federal law. This settlement agreement reflects the Civil Rights Division’s continued commitment to removing artificial barriers that prevent women from becoming law enforcement officers.”

Under the terms of the settlement agreement, still subject to court approval, the Pennsylvania State Police will pay $2.2 million into a settlement fund that will be used to compensate those women who were harmed by the employment practices, according to Justice Department officials.

The agreement also requires the Pennsylvania State Police to offer priority hiring relief, with retroactive seniority, for up to 65 women for entry-level state trooper jobs. All priority hiring candidates must meet the employer’s lawful selection criteria, including the successful passing of any physical fitness test that meets the requirements of Title VII, justice department officials say.

In a joint filing Tuesday in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, the parties moved for a court order provisionally approving the terms of the settlement agreement.

The motion also asks the court to schedule a fairness hearing to provide an opportunity for individuals potentially affected by the proposed agreement to provide comments on the terms of the settlement.

Pennsylvania State Police officials could not immediately be reached for comment.

Soon after the suit was filed in 2014, state police officials defended their entry-testing standards, saying lowering the physical fitness standards for applicants would be insulting to those men and women who already strove to achieve those standards, and it would endanger current and future troopers.

The fitness test in question required candidates to be able to reach a standard of:

14-inch vertical jump in three attempts,
Agility run in 23.5 seconds in two attempts,
A 300-meter run in 77 seconds,
13 push-ups,
And a 1.5-mile run in 17 minutes and 48 seconds.

From 2003 to 2008, 94 percent of male applicants passed the fitness test, while 71 percent of female applicants passed. Under a similar test administered in 2009 through 2012, 98 percent of male applicants passed, while 72 percent of female applicants passed, according to the suit.

Sunday, April 11, 2021

How Fit Can You Get From Just Walking?

April 1, 2021

Walking is good for you, obviously. But can it whip you into shape?

By Graham Isador
Photo Illustration by C.J. Robinson

Four months ago my friend John Sharkman stepped on the scale and realized he was the heaviest he'd ever been. Sharkman—a former college football quarterback—was weighing in at 263 pounds, fifty pounds heavier than his time as an elite athlete. The realization that he'd jumped up to the size of a lineman was humbling, and he knew he needed to shed some weight. He asked me, his fitness journalist friend, to help. But the request came with quite a number of caveats: he didn't want to cut off certain food or alcohol, he didn't want to go to the gym, and he didn't want the whole process to feel that hard.

In the past, I've undertaken a number of successful fitness and fat loss challenges. I've taken all the pre-workout in the world, done thousands of kettlebell swings, gone paleo. But Sharkman's request got me thinking: What is the least amount of effort necessary for substantial weight loss? Can you get real results by just kind of messing around?

So in our group chat, Sharkman and a few other friends made a commitment to walking 10,000 steps a day and tracking our food. We aimed for about 2,000 calories. Sharkman dubbed the initiative Health Zone. After four months following those guidelines, my friend dropped 43 pounds. Collectively the group chat was down 105. Those are life-changing, infomercial-pitch numbers. Some caveats obviously apply: losing weight is hard, and keeping it off is even harder. Your mileage will almost certainly vary. But the whole experience made me wonder: just how fit can you get from just walking ?

"I think walking is probably the single most underutilized tool in health and wellness," says nutrition coach and personal trainer Jeremy Fernandes. According to Fernandes, the reason we rarely hear about walking as a major fitness tool—in the same conversations as stuff like yoga or expensive spinning bikes—is that people aren’t emotionally prepared for fitness to be easy. “Most people want to believe that working out and fat loss needs to be hard. If you need impossibly crushing workouts to get in better shape, then you’re not responsible when you fail,” he says. "But a basic program performed consistently—even a half-assed effort done consistently—can bring you a really long way, much further than going hardcore once in a while. "

It's not like walking is some secret. 10,000 steps is the default recommendation of some of the most popular fitness trackers on the market, and long walks have been a hidden weapon of superhero body transformations for ages. But until witnessing Sharkman undergo his transformation I didn't realize just how powerful just walking could be.

Of course, it's not the right tool for every goal. It won't get you over the finish line of a marathon. And if you want to achieve some sort of beach body, unless you already have some muscle mass, at a certain point simply getting leaner starts to have diminishing returns. That’s why celebrity trainer and champion bodybuilder Eren Legend is wary of signing off on walking as a solution for looking better naked.

"If you do cardio and you have a pear-shaped body, all that you can expect is to become a smaller pear," says Legend. “The only way to change your body composition, the shape and look of your body, is to perform a form of resistance-based training. That’s not to say that 10k steps is bad—if you’re regularly performing some type of physical activity your body is going to change. But is it the most efficient way? Some form of resistance training like weight lifting or sprints in addition to a nutrition plan will get you to your goals faster.”

Similarly, fitness tracker Whoop has given up on counting steps at all together. While most trackers and fitness apps count steps, the designers behind Whoop believe step count alone doesn't tell you enough, choosing instead to measure heart rate. Whoop's vice president of performance Kristen Holmes—a three-time field hockey all-American and one of the most successful coaches in Ivy League history—explained: “Simply counting steps doesn’t really tell you that much. All steps aren’t created equal.” A brisk walk is more beneficial than a slow walk. A jog might be more beneficial than that, she said. The company determined heart rate was the best way to tell you how hard those steps were working.

So if you're chasing high-level performance, single-digit body fat, or a bodybuilder physique, then relying solely on a ton of walking isn't the right move. But the reality is that most average people are pretty far from those goals, and focusing on the routines of really high performers my be doing more harm than good. In other words, expecting that you'll accomplish the training required for a movie star body when starting out a fitness routine is setting yourself up for disappointment. Walking a bunch, on the other hand, is something that is relatively simple to fit into your everyday life. The best fitness routine is always going to be the routine that you follow consistently. And I can vouch for the—unscientific, absolutely not peer-reviewed—results.

"Walking is something you're completely capable of starting right now," said Sharkman. "It sounds cheesy to say changing your life is that simple, but this definitely changed mine."

Sunday, April 4, 2021

Taking the Long View

March 27 2021

By Joe Powers and Ben May

Are We Courageous Enough to Create Our Own Future Now?

Walt Disney said: “Courage is the main quality of leadership.” Leadership in the fire and emergency services today defines the truth of his statement. Courage is one of the defining characteristics for every man and woman who takes the oath to serve and protect our citizens day and night. There is no nobler mission. But it’s not as easy as it was some years ago. We don’t mean “easy” in the challenges to do the job. That’s never been easy. It takes a special kind of person to be a firefighter–or any kind of first responder. It’s an extremely high bar in mental and physical ability and dexterity. The decision to lead firefighters and officers is the high ground of courage. It’s never easy to lead. It’s messy; sometimes we don’t know if we’ve made the right decision until years later. Today we are faced with every possible emergency facing our citizens and now are in the middle of a global pandemic. It seems like our services just keep expanding in the face of budget cuts and layoffs.

Shaping a New Future

Courage in leadership is defined by shaping the new future, maintaining traditional brand values, creating a foundation for sustainability through fostered innovation, and thinking differently to ensure tomorrow’s success. The fire service’s future relies on courageous leaders; however, the success of individual departments providing fire and emergency services hinges on the willingness of those leaders to step out, understand community needs, and begin to adapt now.

21st Century White Paper

The recent 21st Century Fire and Emergency Services White Paper from the Center for Public Safety Excellence is a blueprint for this adaptation. Released just a few months ago, the White Paper is one of the most comprehensive roadmaps for our service at exactly the right time. However, the future it describes is now. The actions it describes need to be taken now because our future is meeting us today. The 21st Century White Paper is exactly the kind of leadership so necessary for our profession and the safety of our citizens. It is visionary, strategic thinking grounded in the reality of the challenges we face with real solutions. This white paper should be a working document for every department’s strategic planning process.

A Change in the Wind

In the mid-2000s, the industry began a transformation. Little by little, fire department leaders across the United States started thinking differently and viewing their communities’ problems not in generalities but in specifics. Fire departments began to understand that, although fires are a high-risk problem, it is not the only risk experienced in the neighborhoods they serve. Today’s top fire departments hold the distinctions because their leaders stepped out of line, supported innovative thinking, and used their brand to build a foundation for long-term success in the community.

Community Risk Reduction

One of the key opportunities emerging from the 21St Century Fire and Emergency Services White Paper is the convergence of citizens’ needs for our service. The growth of community risk reduction (CRR) is the key that unlocks this opportunity for pinpoint service whether emergency or preventive, whether fire and rescue or some other agency that “we” bring into the equation. Incidentally, it’s a marketer’s dream. CRR begins with the brand: Fire Department or Fire and Rescue or Fire and Emergency Services.

In a recent conversation with one of our finest young chiefs, she mentioned how one of her challenges in bringing in new firefighters was the reality that only 7% of the job included actual firefighting. Yes, this is generally true, but we do not see this as a problem. It’s the evolution of our profession to an all-hazards mitigation service. Our heritage and history have served us well. It is rich in traditions as the stimulus for innovation, and CRR is that next step, with the White Paper to expand well beyond that.

Defining Risk and Creating a Point of Difference

The mindset of departments using models of CRR is different from all others, and rightfully so. The fundamentals of CRR drive departments to be different from all the others because the communities they serve are individual. Traditionally speaking, the fire service may provide some of the same services throughout the industry. However, we achieve the highest level of positive outcomes when we serve our residents with the programs and services most needed. We best serve our community best by first understanding risk.

It’s Not a Name Change

First and foremost, regarding CRR, let’s be on the same page. Throughout the industry, CRR may be one of the most misunderstood terms. For those leaders who understand CRR, there is long-term success in operations, community outcomes, and funding. For those who don’t understand it, CRR is simply a static name change and an unimpressive replacement for either “fire prevention” or the “fire marshal’s office.” What is the most significant risk to CRR? The lack of understanding by fire service leaders.

Opening the Firehouse Doors for a Transformative Model

CRR is not public education, fire code inspections, fire prevention, or more work for firefighters. It is a complete transformation to a model of risk assessments, prioritization, resource deployment, and evaluation. In the simplest of terms, CRR is all about opening the doors of our firehouses, looking into the neighborhoods, seeing the problems, then going out and helping to reduce the impacts of the biggest problems.

Understanding Enough to Tell the Story

In many cases, CRR uses firefighter perceptions, reliable data, and community insights to better understand the risk faced by residents and visitors. Collecting and studying the information create fantastic opportunities for fire service leaders to tell neighborhood-based stories. When fire departments can understand and articulate the unheard stories, they can use their trusted brand to impact communities positively, save lives, and write the organization’s future. This is where we start to see the opportunities of CRR in our departments. Telling the stories of an industrial area may drive changes to our training academy, the information we collect and share during preincident planning, and how command officers allocate emergency resources. Within a multi-family community, the stories may lead us to tailor curricula in that specific school district, improve on messaging during public events, and develop partnerships with social services to improve service delivery.

A Multidisciplinary Approach

CRR, depending on the neighborhood, may have elements of code enforcement and public education. However, true CRR is not fire prevention or kids wearing plastic fire helmets. CRR is community-specific services, programs, partnerships, and organizational changes to improve outcomes. CRR may impact physical fitness training and requirements where wildland and even high-rise risks occur. It may alter how company officers develop riding seat assignments or how home health care providers interact with their at-risk clients.

Is It Worth It? Yes, and Here’s How to Do It

CRR sounds like more work, right? Well … yes, and no. Creatively collecting information to tell the stories is an additional workload. However, as you begin to define the risks, the models of CRR drive increased efficiency and decreased organizational workload while doing more in the community. Although it sounds like a pipe dream, there are several benefits to CRR that most leaders don’t realize. By conducting a risk assessment and understanding the neighborhood stories, departments can better provide the risk-reduction activities communities need. However, CRR works the opposite way, too, by identifying what services communities don’t need–trimming citywide programs down to only those communities that require the services to increase efficiency and decrease workload. Also, providing the right services to the right community or population may reduce emergency response demand.

Dig Deeper to Understand the Real Risks in Your Community

What’s also important to understand is this: The first time you try to develop a risk assessment, you may not find the real story. Good risk assessments are the product of trials, innovations, evaluations, and perseverance. Risk assessments are not a one-and-done document you put on a shelf. Useful risk assessments use data, the Web, and even interviews to gather experiential data from firefighters, police officers, social works, and more. Evaluating progress can shed light on improvement opportunities and additional risk assessment elements to better tell the story.

It’s a Partnership that Can Work

Being everything for everybody is fiscally impossible, and–let’s be honest–the fire department doesn’t need to try to do it all. There are vast opportunities to partner with government and private organizations to improve communities. Linking up and communicating with social service and mental health resources may improve the holistic response to frequent 911 utilizers. Partnering with in-home health care, property maintenance, or meal-delivery services puts a number of advocates in homes, which the fire service cannot otherwise achieve. Even working with local schools and outlining their students’ specific risks can drive changes in morning announcements, lunchroom posters contents, and to-home messaging. There are so many capable organizations and people who can make a difference. Provide them with the information and let them do the job.

The “Fire” in “Fire Department”

As leaders, we have the responsibility to imbue young firefighters with the evolution of our profession and their responsibility as leaders to take it further. The brand equity and public loyalty are symbolized by the Maltese Cross, our uniforms, and our care–not just in time of need but in a comprehensive, interactive approach to safety and prevention with the citizens we protect in the middle. In our opinion, the name Fire and Rescue or Emergency Services is critical. Our citizens trust us in the way they know us. They know us first as the Fire Department, and it is an undisputed market and brand position.

Comprehensive Safety 24/7

In CRR, the Fire Department is leading and coordinating this comprehensive safety equation. That is marketing leverage from an unassailable position. It’s our responsibility to maintain that high ground of brand loyalty and equity. We do this daily in the specific actions with ourselves, the public, and the other agencies and professions we involve in CRR.

The fire service has the opportunity to capitalize on its brand and create a sustainable future through CRR. Risk-matched services, strategic partnerships, and continuous evaluation for improvement can drive outcomes to build our future through strengthening the fire department brand.

Courageous with CRR

Being courageous enough to intentionally instill CRR elements with the trusted brand of your fire department will put firefighters at the forefront of community change. Funding for your organization is no longer a government liability, as is seen in a traditional firefighting department; it’s an investment in intentional community change. Community investments that drive positive outcomes while reducing workload are a sustainable model for our industries’ future. The outcomes of CRR in one department cannot be duplicated in another. CRR requires leaders’ courage to step up and intentionally understand the communities served to tell the stories for successful outcomes.

Leading the Evolution of Our Future

The future of fire, emergency services, and comprehensive safety is in our hands if we have the courage to lead and shape it. Every fire officer, firefighter, and probie has the intelligence to embrace the shifting paradigm that includes the wellness of our citizens as well as their emergency needs. As the 21st Century White Paper notes: We will have specific data drawing a picture of the hazards and needs of every building, business, and family by jurisdiction and location. We are building a safe future for all our citizens with the fire service in the lead as the master builder.

Joe Powers is a 27-year veteran of the fire service and has a master’s degree in public administration and a bachelor’s degree in health sciences. He works with fire departments to improve operational response, reduce operational workload, and tie data to strategic decision making. Powers is the deputy chief of community risk reduction at the Charlottesville (VA) Fire Department.

Ben May is a board director of the Center for Excellence in Public Safety and recently retired global director of corporate alliances for the Walt Disney Company. He has been a marketing consultant to Fire Service Publications (IFSTA) of Oklahoma State University’s School of Fire Protection Technology, the U.S. Fire Administration, and metro fire departments across the country. He has a master’ degree with honors in international communication and Russian.

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

What’s the Minimum Dose of Training to Stay Fit?

A new review assesses what it takes to maintain endurance and strength when circumstances interfere with your usual training

by Alex Hutchinson, Mar 23, 2021

My college coach used to assign us a week of complete rest every November, after the conclusion of the cross-country season. But one of my teammates, an exercise science student, discovered the research of Robert Hickson, who did some classic studies in the early 1980s on maintaining fitness with reduced training. So, during our yearly week of sloth and bacchanalian revels, we would sneak out for two 30-minute bouts of hard running, hoping that would allow us to be both well-rested and still fit when we started training for indoor track.

Life as a grown-up is more complicated, and the reasons for temporarily reducing training are sometimes considerably more pressing—like a pandemic, say. But the question endures: what’s the smallest dose of training you can get away with temporarily while staying mostly fit? It’s particularly relevant for military personnel, whose ability to train while on deployment is often severely constrained, which is why a group of researchers at the United States Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine, led by Barry Spiering, has just published an interesting review of the “minimum dose” literature in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research.

The review addresses three key training variables: frequency (how many days per week), volume (how long is your endurance workout, or how many sets and reps do you lift), and intensity (how hard or how heavy). It only includes studies in which the subjects reduced their training for at least four weeks, to distinguish it from research on tapering before big competitions—although some of the conclusions are similar. And it’s focused on athletic performance, not weight loss or health.

Maintain Your Endurance

The main conclusions about endurance are still based on those Hickson studies from the early 1980s, with a bit of confirmation from more recent studies. Hickson’s basic design was to put volunteers through ten weeks of fairly hellish training, involving six days a week of 40 minutes of cycling or running at intensities that reached 90 to 100 percent of max heart rate by the end. Then, for another 15 weeks, they reduced either the number of weekly sessions (to two or four), the duration of sessions (to 13 or 26 minutes), or the intensity of the sessions (to 61 to 67 percent or 82 to 87 percent of max heart rate).

Here’s the graph that got my college teammate so fired up, from Hickson’s 1981 study:

(Illustration: Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise)

The vertical axis shows VO2 max, a measure of aerobic fitness. On the horizontal axis, you have baseline pre-training values on the left, for subjects who were recreationally active but untrained. After the ten-week period of hard six-day-a-week training, they’ve increased VO2 max by a very impressive 20 to 25 percent. Then, for the next 15 weeks, their VO2 max just stays at the new value, regardless of whether they drop down to only two or four days a week.

The overall conclusion of the new review, then, is that you can get away with as few as two sessions a week as long as you maintain volume and intensity of your workouts. But they caution that maintaining your VO2 max isn’t the same as maintaining your ability to perform long-duration endurance activities. Don’t expect to run your best marathon after a few months of twice-a-week training: your legs, if nothing else, won’t be able to handle it.

The picture was similar when Hickson’s volunteers reduced the duration of their training sessions to 13 or 26 minutes (i.e. reducing their baseline duration by one third or two thirds). Once again, VO2 max gains were preserved for 15 weeks. This study also included tests of short (~5-minute) and long (~2-hour) endurance. Short endurance was preserved in both groups, but the 13-minute group got worse in the two-hour test.

The third and final variable that Hickson manipulated was intensity—and here, finally, we get confirmation that training does matter. Dropping training intensity by a third (from 90 to 100 percent of max heart rate to 82-87 percent) led to declines in VO2 max and long endurance; dropping it by two-thirds (to 61 to 67 percent) wiped out most of the training gains. The takeaway: you can get away with training less often, or for shorter durations, but not with going easy.

There are a few important caveats here. Most notably, we’re drawing these conclusions based mostly on one specific, unusual, and probably unsustainable training protocol: hammering six days a week. If you have a more balanced training program that mixes hard and easy training, does it take more or less training to maintain fitness? It’s not obvious.

Also, the subjects in Hickson’s studies weren’t trained athletes or military personnel. If you’ve been training for years, you accrue some structural changes (a bigger heart and more extensive network of blood vessels, for example) that presumably take longer to fade away. Conversely, you probably reach a higher level of absolute fitness, which might fade away more quickly. One of the co-authors of the new review is Iñigo Mujika, a physiologist and coach at the University of the Basque Country in Spain who is among the world’s leading experts in tapering, in which athletes try to reduce their training enough to rest and recover for a few weeks without losing fitness before a big race. In tapering studies, athletes can reduce their training frequency by about 20 percent and their volume by 60 to 90 percent and maintain fitness as long as they keep their intensity high. That’s one good reality-check that suggests Hickson’s findings about the importance of intensity make sense.

Maintain Your Strength

The literature on resistance training is much more varied, which makes for a more complicated picture but hopefully more reliable conclusions. Surprisingly, the overall pattern turns out to be pretty similar to endurance training. You can reduce both the frequency and volume of workouts as long as you maintain the intensity, and you’ll preserve both maximum strength and muscle size for several months.

For exercise frequency, several studies find that even training just once a week is sufficient to maintain strength and muscle size. That fits with the conclusions of a study I wrote about recently that demonstrated impressive strength gains on a simple once-a-week routine. The exception is in older populations: for adults older than 60, there’s a bit of evidence that twice-a-week sessions are better at preserving muscle. There’s a similar picture for training volume: one set per exercise seems to be sufficient for younger populations, but older people may need two sets.

It’s worth noting that maintaining your existing strength is not the same as gaining strength: this review focuses on the minimum dose, not the optimaldose. Even in the broader strength training literature, there’s quite a bit of disagreement about how many sets or how many workouts per week it takes to fully max out your gains. But the basic finding here is that one set a week per exercise (or maybe a bit more for older adults) is probably enough to tread water for a while, as long as you don’t decrease how hard you lift. The review suggests aiming to approach failure by the end of each set, or at least to not decrease intensity compared to what you usually do.

In a perfect world, you’ll never need to apply any of this. But things happen, whether it’s related to work, travel, family, or global health. Over the years, as my own training has waxed and waned depending on the circumstances, the one non-negotiable element has remained a weekly tempo run—the spiritual descendant of those Hickson-inspired post-cross-country hammer sessions. It’s a shock to the system when my training has been patchy, but if that’s the minimum effective dose that ensures I never get truly out of shape, then I’m happy to swallow it.

For more Sweat Science, join me on Twitter and Facebook, sign up for the email newsletter, and check out my book Endure: Mind, Body, and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance.
Lead Photo: Mihajlo Ckovric/Stocksy

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