Firefighters have a 200 to 300-percent increased risk of coronary heart disease compared to most of us - much of that is because of the nature of their jobs. So the Unified Fire Authority (UFA) in Utah is working hard to make sure their bravest are also the healthiest.

Fighting a fire - no matter what time of day or night - is intense. As they arrive on scene, firefighters quickly perform a search for possible victims before turning their attention to the blaze. And they do all of this work with an additional 50 pounds of gear on their backs.

“Really physically demanding job,” says Dave Ulibarri from the UFA Wellness Committee. “You're pulling ceiling, you're cutting roof, you’re climbing ladders, you're doing a lot of things with that gear and it gets pretty hot - even if it's sub-zero outside and a fire in the middle of winter - you are sweating.”

This intense activity is cited as the main reason why so many firefighters are at risk for heart attacks - both on and off the job.

That's why the UFA has implemented a safety and wellness program for all 400 of their employees. Leroy Sandberg is one of four members of the wellness committee with a personal trainer certification. His job is to help his fellow firefighters find that healthy balance.

“Workouts can go from everyone just gets together and does weight training, or someone will be doing weight training while others are doing cardio,” says Sandberg. “Or if the station wants to go out to say a high school track in the summer time, maybe they will run laps or some will walk, so it's just kind of everybody at their own fitness level.”

“Some of the firefighters have done many different workouts,” says Ulibarri. “A lot of them have decided to go with the ‘P90X.’ There's some ‘Insanity.’ Some people do videos at the station.”

New recruits for the UFA attend boot camp-style physical training every morning for 12 weeks where they are monitored by the training captains.

In order to be awarded the UFA fitness ribbon, recruits must meet 'all' of the following criteria:
• 1-point-5 mile run in less than 14 minutes
• Minimum of 21 push-ups - non-stop
• Minimum of 29 sit-ups in 1 minute
• Minimum of 17.5-inch vertical jump from standing still with both feet together
• A 300-meter sprint in less than 64 seconds

But afterwards, they are no longer required to pass 'any' fitness tests, unless they are returning to the job after an injury. The wellness program is one way UFA administrators hope to keep their men and women in tip-top shape.

“Because when people call 9-1-1, it's the worst day of their life at that moment,” says Ulibarri. “We're the help that they call; we want to be able to perform the job. And that wouldn't make you feel very comfortable if the people get off the fire engine and are already out of breath and they look like they are going to pass out.”

Sandberg says another focus of the wellness committee is encouraging their employees to make healthier choices at the dinner table, as well.

“I can remember going through four cubes of butter - a pound of butter - each day,” says Sandberg. “So it's kind of transitioned in the 10 years I've been on from eating gravies, salad dressings and all that butter, to now. We've actually got a website that the health and wellness committee has established and we put on actually healthy recipes.

Sandberg also notes that the program is a savings to taxpayers, helping the UFA save on health care costs.

You can find lots of healthy recipes, tips and exercises for your own workout program on our website – www.checkyourhealth.org.


Video News Report:

http://connect2utah.com/health-story/?nxd_id=92215