Carter: Taking Care of the Troops

Dr. Harry Carter highlights four means of resource conservation for fire departments.

We must all work towards enhancing the image of the fire service.  By making duty in the fire service something to be envied, the chances of luring brighter, better people to its ranks is improved.

Once high-quality people have chosen firefighting as a calling, be it in a career or volunteer status, provide them the best possible training to allow them to perform the wide range of tasks demanded of the fire service generalist.  They must be utilized to the greatest extent possible.  Stress the importance of specialized schools on topics such as hazardous materials, confined space rescue and emergency medical technician.  Novice firefighters must be impressed with the fact that learning is a long-term endeavor.  To allow firefighters a route of advancement into the ranks of tomorrow’s fire service officers, the importance of college-level knowledge must be stressed.

Training as a mechanism for resource conservation has long been overlooked by the fire service.  The future will demand more of each individual choosing to serve as a firefighter.  It also appears that the funding available to perform this essential public service will be in short supply.  To maximize the value of each individual firefighter, each must be able to perform a wider range of tasks.

Physical fitness in another area of great importance to the future of the fire service.  Resource conservation stresses the value of getting the most out of each component in an organization.  What better way to get an improved return on its recruiting and training than for a fire department to stress physical fitness?  Can a firefighter who is out of shape perform at the same level as one who takes part in some form of structured, supervised exercise program?

I want you to know that I am not performing as well I did nearly 50 years ago when I entered the fire service.  This physical deterioration is normal.  Each of us must recognize this and work to over it.  In my case I long ago stopped performing any interior structural firefighting duties.  I still drive but only because I continue to pass my firefighter physicals.  I also swim three days a week at our local hospital's fitness center.

The emphasis on physical fitness must be strengthened.  After we recruit, train and nurture the best possible people for our organizations we must keep them healthy and fit for the demands of their job.  By building up a long-term commitment to fitness, it is my belief that our personnel will incur less time off duty for illness and be less susceptible to injury at a fire scene.

Several major fire departments have had physical fitness programs for years.  While the results vary, one concept remains constant.  The successful programs have top-down acceptance and interest.  What good does it do for a fire administrator to adopt a number of “do as I say, but not as I do” regulations governing physical fitness.  (Or any other program for that matter.)  When the person in charge makes a firm commitment to be a part of the physical fitness solution the impact on all members is quite positive.  We did this here in Adelphia, N.J..  We have a well-equipped fitness center and a regular number of members who work out there. 

What good comes from having a well-trained fire department if its members are constantly being bombarded by lost time due to injuries?  Because of this, safety is an area which must grow importance if the effectiveness of fire department personnel is to be preserved and increased.  Studies show that every area of fire department operations contributes to the overall injury rate.

People are being injured and, in some cases, killed, during training sessions, station maintenance and other areas which could easily be subjected to safety controls.  Let me remind you that responding to emergency incidents kills and injuries as many people as actual fire combat.  And the lack of a physical fitness program manifests itself on the fireground through exhaustion problems, heart attacks and simple strains and sprains.  People who are not in good physical condition are also more subject to the stresses, both physical and mental, of active fire combat.