The fire season is fast approaching here in Sydney and in many places it has already begun. As a volunteer firefighter, I understand the fitness level that is needed to fight fires once they come around. Whilst this is targeted toward local members, it is applicable for anybody in emergency services around the world getting ready for an upcoming season. This was suggested by a friend who is a member and is not directly about my own fitness business but I think it will be helpful for many people regardless. The exercises mentioned will help anybody trying to improve their fitness!
Why is fitness important?
Fitness is important for a firefighter as it enables us to carry out our tasks effectively, efficiently and safely. It is an all too often overlooked part of being a firefighter. We may still be able to perform the tasks needed if we are not very fit, but they will be harder and we are much more liable to injure ourselves in the process. Injured firefighters are not good for anybody involved. It will also mean we are more able to focus on the task at hand without being distracted from fatigue.
What sort of training is good for firefighting?
The best sort of training is going to be that which helps us with the tasks we need to do on the fire ground. Making training scenarios realistic helps with this but often it is hard to replicate the physical fitness requirements in scenarios. During all training, I would recommend wearing full PPE to simulate the real environment. If you can’t stand the heat during training then it will be even harder wearing it in a real situation.
With that said, here are some areas of fitness to work on with the fire season coming up:
Hill climbing, stair climbing
The best and quickest way to get your cardio fitness up is to climb hills. This is something we all need to do at fires and is very taxing on the body. Walking up and down hills will get your heart rate up very quickly. If you don’t have any hills nearby find some stairs. To make things harder, put on a weighted back pack when you are doing your hill climbs.
Heavy carries, drums, water drums,
Another great way to work on firefighter fitness is any sort of loaded carry. We are often dragging or carrying hoses and all sorts of gear as we move around. Loaded carries tax the body greatly and present a real chance of injury if you are not used to it. To replicate this in a training environment, carry 20litre water drums, petrol drums or any other heavy object you can get your hands on. Carry one in each hand or carry heavier objects in front of you.
Remember core strength
Core strength is important as it will help us to carry out all the tasks we have to do whilst reducing our chances of injury when doing them. Core strength exercises that will be useful are planks, side planks and stomach vacuums. A strong core will help you to perform better and also lessen your chances of doing your back in while out in the field.
Starting a fitness group with your brigade
About a year ago a member of my brigade suggested we do a fitness training group once a week after work. Every week some members meet up at the local oval and I run them through a circuit style training session for an hour. Generally this involves running, bodyweight exercises, kettlebells, loaded carries and a few other weight bearing exercises. Set up stations and rotate everybody through these with minimal rest. This is a great way to not only increase your fitness levels but build teamwork and comradery. These sessions can be scaled to any fitness level and are a good stepping stone to further fitness.
Incorporating fitness into your training schedule
Often we neglect our fitness levels in favor of fire specific training. This is understandable but there is no reason fitness cannot be embedded into regular training. Fire specific training drills are often done close to the truck and don’t always represent the fitness that we will need on a real job, especially a longer campaign fire. A great way to add in some fitness is to start or finish with an hour walk in the local bush. Fitness might not be a compulsory part of volunteering, but that doesn’t mean it should be ignored!
Meals and snacks are provided now for all members who are on active fires and also for training events. Whilst these meals are generally well done, there is often a lot of reliance on junk food in between meals. This can be great if you are doing hard work but if you are sitting in the truck or at an airfield all day, think about whether you really need to be constantly eating lollies and chips throughout the day.
Also keep in mind how much food you have available in your truck and whether members can eat that type of food (food allergies etc). From a personal view, I would also recommend taking a good amount of food in your bag with you. Food is generally served but if it is delayed for whatever reason it is much nicer to have a source of food available to you. Our performance is also dramatically reduced when we are hungry.
Some food ideas to take in your bag are zip lock bags filled with trail mix (dried fruit and nuts), muesli bars, beef jerky packets, tinned foods (if you have a bag in the truck), chocolate bars etc. Foods should be easy to store without refrigeration, easy to transport, easy to eat, suitable to you (allergies and preference) and give you a healthy range of energy sources.
Firefighters need to be fit to perform their tasks. We cannot overlook this fact, if you are not fit you are a much higher risk of injury. Improving our fitness levels needs to happen year-round but even more importantly as the fire season approaches. Try and incorporate fire specific fitness into your weekly routine and not only will you be able to perform better, you will likely feel better too!
Do you consider your fitness leading up to a fire season?