The 3 Fs of Firefighter Fitness: Part 4 - Functional Firefighters: How To Maximize Your Performance on the Fireground

Rich Meyer reviews one of the most important tools you have in your possession on the fireground: your body.


Your body is another tool of the trade which you always carry on a job. If you do not constantly train your body, you will not be able to function optimally, and you may be putting yourself or one of your teammates in danger. Think about the tools you grab when you're going to work: halligan, axe or...


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Your body is another tool of the trade which you always carry on a job. If you do not constantly train your body, you will not be able to function optimally, and you may be putting yourself or one of your teammates in danger. Think about the tools you grab when you're going to work: halligan, axe or hoseline. The task will be completed if the appropriate tool functions in the right situation. In these scenarios, success is highly dependent on the function of the tool. Firefighting overall is highly dependent on the ability to function physically.

Behind your gear and your experience/decision-making, your body is one of the most important tools you have in your possession. In certain situations in which you have no tools and must act quickly, you must depend on your body functioning properly to get yourself out of trouble. Your body must also function properly so you can perform other fire-specific tasks like climbing stairs and ladders and searching for victims.

The human body contains over 700 muscles, 206 bones, numerous tendons and ligaments, and various joints. The different articulations of joints, where bones meet, are situated in different directions to let your body move in various degrees of free motion. Movement is the outcome of an impulse, which involves a high degree of coordination between your brain, nerves, joints and muscles. If one part breaks down along the path or is not working properly, the result is faulty or inefficient mechanics, which leads to injuries or poor performance.

Since lifting heavy objects or carrying tools properly is often the furthest thing from our minds on the fireground, faulty mechanics lead to increased incidence of strains and sprains. Faulty mechanics also increase our energy demands for simple tasks, which zaps our strength and endurance for more critical jobs. Sometimes, we think about tightening our abs or using our legs to lift and carry, but in the heat of the moment, our actions become more reactive. If our body is not prepared for this, we pull muscles, sprain ankles, or tear our knee or shoulder ligaments.

Fitness Vs. Performance

The distinction between fitness and performance is key to understanding a functional training program. Fitness is often thought of as being in good shape, managing healthy body fat levels, lacking disease, and having energy throughout the day. Performance is defined by your ability to accomplish a task. On the fireground, performance is key to successfully mitigating the situation. Being fit and healthy is a great way to prevent illness and lessen your chances of high blood pressure. However, performance or functional training prepares your body to handle the physical demands on your body and physiological systems. A performance program will help improve your function in two key ways:

  • Preventing injuries and enhancing graceful movement
  • Making sure your body's physiological systems work efficiently so you can easily perform tasks without dramatically increasing physical stress to abnormal levels

Other benefits of performance training will be improvements in your health and fitness. Essentially, it's the biggest bang for your buck.

Functional Training

Functional training (FT) is the performance aspect of our "3 Fs" system of firefighter conditioning. Functional training is a system of training that prepares your body for specific demands of firefighting by simulating fireground tasks in your workouts. An example is the sled drag. The sled is a useful tool to simulate dragging a charged hoseline from different angles. This specific exercise depicts the essence of FT. Training with the sled in a progressive system will undoubtedly help you drag charged lines on scene.

Another piece of equipment our firefighters use in training is PVC pipe. You can cut, drill and fill pieces to mimic the weight and shape of tools. We use a three-foot piece of pipe with a bolt at the end. We attached a piece of webbing and a small carabiner clip to the pipe, which we then attach to a cable column to mimic pulling ceilings.

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