The 3 Fs of Firefighter Conditioning: Fitness, Fat Loss and Function

Rich Meyer introduces a series of articles that will help you formulate a customized program that’s right for you and address your individual goals.


Every day, Firehouse.com, newspapers and TV news reports remind us of the ever-present dangers of the fire service and the ultimate price some of our brothers and sisters pay. One can expect to lose firefighters to traumatic causes because of the nature of the job, but news of a firefighter’s...


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Every day, Firehouse.com, newspapers and TV news reports remind us of the ever-present dangers of the fire service and the ultimate price some of our brothers and sisters pay. One can expect to lose firefighters to traumatic causes because of the nature of the job, but news of a firefighter’s successful career ending due to a heart attack or stroke shouldn’t be taken lightly.

Fire service organizations have done a great job of bringing the topic of firefighter health and fitness to the forefront, but is that enough? As more information comes forth about how the cumulative effects of stress, cardiac risk factors and lifestyle habits impact your life as a firefighter, the need for a comprehensive and specific program still exists.

This is the introduction to a series of articles about a concept called “The ‘3 Fs’ of Firefighter Conditioning.” The “3 Fs” – fitness, fat loss and function – will help you formulate a customized program that’s right for you and address your individual goals. The “3 Fs” is a three-step system of conditioning that you can use to improve your health, body composition and/or performance on the job. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) reports that 52 firefighters lost their lives in the line of duty in 2004 due to non-traumatic causes such as heart attacks and strokes. More precisely, 49 firefighters died directly from heart attacks. That seems like a real problem, right?

Actually, those statistics are the consequences. You must dive deeper to find the real problem, and if you look around your firehouse, you just may see with your own eyes. One of the problems lies in the choices you make in regard to food and lifestyle habits.

Whether you’re a career or volunteer firefighter, your day or shift is unpredictable and at the mercy of a random call schedule. Your days may fall into one of these two categories: busy running all day or slow times interspersed with intense moments. If you’re busy, chances are you probably have little time to sit and eat and are often faced with the decision of not eating or eating food that’s convenient and unhealthy. If you are lucky enough to have time to eat, you may buy food for your entire crew, which means the majority rules. The majority may not be your best choice, but one bad meal won’t hurt, right? One may not, but when bad choices are repeated over time, they become habits.

The other problem with food choices is that eating is commonly a social behavior, and often when firefighters sit, talk and eat, they eat for taste and comfort, not health. This habit, coupled with the rush of a busy, technology-driven life on the off days, creates an unhealthy and unsupportive environment one needs when trying to address lifestyle issues. If you do not have the discipline, determination and support from peers and family, your chances of leading a healthy life are not in your favor. The consequence of perpetuating this cycle is becoming a firefighter who will die from preventable causes.

By searching the Internet today, you can find some websites and companies devoted to firefighter fitness. If you look closely at the programs they promote, you’ll see that only a few are worth mentioning. Unfortunately, the large emphasis on firefighter fitness has given rise to simple, machine-based programs designed to train the masses without a system that creates a plan for you.

As a firefighter, your program shouldn’t look like your neighbor’s. If you have ever started a fitness program and dropped out before eight weeks, chances are it wasn’t right for you. You have inherent strengths and weaknesses that must be considered for your plan to work.

You are also built differently than your partner or superior officer. When you begin a cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all program that isn’t tailored to you, it falls short of your expectations. It becomes a hassle to train and consequently you just give up on it. The downward spiral into couch-heaven begins, and you inevitably choose the lounge chair over the squat rack.

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