Fit for the Job

I consider myself extremely lucky to have the job of career firefighter for a large city department.  On top of that I have the privilege of being assigned to one of the busiest stations with one of the busiest, and reputable Ladder companies in the city.  January 2022 will make 9 years that I have been a firefighter.

Fitness has always been a big part of my life.  I played basketball in high school and college, and began seriously learning about fitness and training during college.  I initially learned the value of fitness in an operational setting while serving on a Maritime Safety and Security Team in the US Coast Guard.  It wasn’t until I became a firefighter that I truly learned how fitness can be a determining factor in one’s ability to do a job.  That lesson was quickly learned as a cadet in the academy, and is impressed more and more upon me with every structure fire, vehicle rescue, and bariatric lift assist that I respond to.

Firefighting is very unique as far as physical requirements go.  While firefighters are lumped into the “tactical athlete” category our job has demands that are unlike any other tactical job.  While SWAT, military, and police do have be physically proficient under load (tactical vest, weapon, gun belt, etc.) firefighters work under load, wearing the equivalent of 4 layers of sweats while breathing through a hose.  We operate in extreme environment.  We carry tools, ladders, hose, and other equipment that would make a weapon feel like a plastic baseball bat.  We carry and use these items on and over uneven, sometimes slippery terrain.  All of this is done under a tremendous rush of adrenaline; and when the fire is out we get a short break and then we go about cleaning up everything we use.

Firefighters like other tactical athletes have to be able to respond and be physically capable without the benefit of a warm-up.  We go from being in a dead sleep to running to the apparatus to get dressed for a fire.  Firefighters operate while dehydrated, sleep deprived, and hungry.  Our recovery from working out and working is limited due to irregular sleep patterns and diet.

All of the above push us to the limit physically and mentally, which is why being physically prepared for such an onslaught is so important.  Over my almost 9 years on the job I have experimented with a variety of training methods.  I have taken detailed mental and written notes about what methods work well and which ones do not.  I have also tried many recovery methods and diets; all in the pursuit of finding the perfect way to prepare my body to be the best firefighter I can be.

This is the beginning of a series of posts sharing the lessons I have learned.  My hope is to pass some of these lessons on to other firefighters, and people aspiring to be firefighters so they can build on them, and hopefully avoid learning some of this knowledge the hard way.  Keep in mind, of course there is always multiple ways to skin a cat, and some of the training methods that I prefer to use may not fit everyone’s personal preference.  The principles, however, are pretty universal and can be found in just about any fitness course or seminar.

I hope you find this information helpful, and that it helps to make you a better firefighter.  That’s why we train right? Whether fitness or skill training, we train to be better; to provide the best service we can to our citizens; to be the firefighter that we would want showing up to help our own families in an emergency; and to be the firefighter others can count on when it hits the fan.