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Honoring One of Their Own Through Fitness

Those of us who have experienced losing a friend and/or colleague in a line-of-duty death (or even a non-line-of-duty death) know that experience can profoundly change you, either positively or negatively.

Often, one must travel through the questions and the darkness, before the sun shines again and we see the positives that emerge. I found mine through writing to hopefully prepare others for the physical challenges that we face on a daily basis in EMS, the fire service, and law enforcement.

The Lisbon, Maine, Fire Department experienced much the same when their most active member collapsed at home from an aneurism and was found by department members. After the questions of why a 44-year-old died from an aneurism, they found a way to honor one of their own.

Following the tragic event, several of the members realized, often as we all do, that our diet and physical fitness levels may not be where we want them to be or need to be for the daily challenges faced by firefighters.

For Deputy Chief Mike Robitallie and members of the department, it wasn’t just a realization that they needed to do something, it was personal. Eight members of the department trained for and completed a 5K race. Along the way, they dragged six of their spouses into the training and the race.

Now, three members have trained for and completed marathons, and a number of them continue to train and compete in local races along with their spouses. They have had a “Biggest Loser” competition with their mutual aid departments, and now require full cardiac work-ups on all members over the age of 40.

As I talked with Deputy Chief Robitallie, I realized it was not just honoring one of their own, but through his death and their emergence back into the sunlight, how many firefighter lives are being saved through their actions.

Though what I found most interesting was the Firefighter Skills Challenge that they developed with their mutual aid departments and was conducted during Lisbon’s annual town festival.

This event did not just encourage firefighters from the various departments to improve their diets and physical training, but had two additional benefits. First, since it was held on Main Street following the Children’s Fire Prevention Carnival. This drew in a large crowd, giving the departments an opportunity to demonstrate not just what they do, but also demonstrate how physically demanding it is. Second, it became an excellent recruiting opportunity for all the departments involved.

The Firefighter Skills Challenge that Lisbon and their mutual aid departments developed can be reproduced in most communities.

By getting out and gaining some community support, it can easily be taken a step further, with awards to individual team members and a traveling trophy. Lisbon kept it simple, fast-moving, fun, and the crowd loved it! Lisbon and the competing departments each chose a four-member team with individual times recorded as well as team times. The events included:

  1. The infamous Keiser Sled event
  2. Weighted, mannequin drag (distance and weight negotiable or unknown to the teams)
  3. 35-foot extension ladder climb against a downtown building (putting an air horn at the top will add a little to the event)
  4. Drag 1 ¾” line 150 feet, charge it, and then hit a target (I prefer hit the target and dunk a Chief)

These events can be rearranged and/or changed depending on location and goals of the department.

Competition between, or within, a department is one of the best motivating tools for not only getting a physical fitness program going like Lisbon and their mutual aid departments accomplished, but is also the launching pad for improving what you eat, developing a training fueling plan (I refuse to use the word diet anymore, because it is not), or if members are trying to lose weight, a weight-loss plan (which encompasses more than working out and a diet).

You can reach Deputy Chief Mike Robitaille at for further information on their challenge.

Summer is here! So what are you all waiting for? Time to show your mutual aid departments whose King or Queen of the Challenge!

If your department and mutual aid departments have a little competition this summer, send me an e-mail and some pictures.

Also, if your department is doing something interesting, cool, over the top, or just plain crazy for workouts, send me an e-mail. I’m going to start spotlighting the interesting and crazy, lets share!

Three groups benefit: your department; your family when you go home at the end of the shift or the call; and the victims you pull from the carnage when it appears all hope is lost.

Until next time, stay hydrated and be safe!

SCOTT TOMEK MA, EMT-P has been a paramedic for 25 years with 23 of those at Lakeview Hospital EMS in Stillwater, MN. He is a faculty member with the Century College Paramedic Program and wrote the curriculum for and served as the interim director of their public safety degree program. He is a frequent contributor to EMS World Magazine, a frequent presenter at EMS conferences in the Midwest and an educational consultant to fire and EMS services. View all of Scott's artices and podcasts hereHe can be reached at