1. #1
    Sr. Information Officer
    NJFFSA16's Avatar
    Join Date
    Aug 2001
    25 NW of the GW

    Question Pack Test Deadly?

    PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) - Some wildland firefighters assigned to
    blazes around the West die before they're even on the job.
    In the past four years, eight firefighters working for federal
    agencies have died while taking a required government fitness test.
    Three of those firefighters have died while taking or training for
    the test this year, a review by The Oregonian showed.
    Family members of the victims and experts looking for safer
    alternatives to the test say they have been denied details about
    the deaths. In some cases, firefighting agencies violated federal
    rules by not screening those who died for health risks before they
    took the test, internal Forest Service documents show.
    "It's a big concern," said William Dougan, a forester in
    Alaska and regional vice president for the largest union of Forest
    Service employees. "It really calls into question the test we've
    set up. We don't want our test to be killing people."
    Forest Service officials say that they are working with the
    union to adopt better medical screening, but that no test meant to
    match the rigors of battling wildfires can be risk-free.
    Most of the deaths appear to have been caused by heart attacks
    brought on by the exertion of a test designed for young, physically
    fit individuals, said Brian Sharkey, a physiologist at the Forest
    Service's Missoula Technology and Development Center in Montana.
    Sharkey helped develop the test, called the Work Capacity Test.
    The most arduous version, known as the "pack test," requires
    those who work on fires to carry a 45-pound pack three miles in 45
    minutes. Others with less demanding fire duties can take easier
    No deaths occurred during field trials of the test five years
    ago, Sharkey said.
    Privacy concerns have kept Sharkey from obtaining facts about
    each death, he said, making it difficult to suggest improvements.
    What he does know, however, is that most of the dead were older
    than 45. The deaths probably reflect an aging and increasingly
    desk-bound federal work force pressed into duty during fire season,
    he said.
    "Part of it is we are asking people who aren't really
    firefighters, who have other jobs, to take that test," Sharkey
    said. "Unless people work their way to physical fitness gradually,
    we probably will have this continue at some level."
    Federal agencies developed the test while revising safety
    procedures after a raging 1994 Colorado blaze killed 14
    firefighters, including nine from Oregon.
    The new test was meant to resemble the demands of firefighting
    better than a long-used step test that measured pulse rates of
    someone stepping on and off a box for five minutes.
    One death was linked to the earlier test.
    The Forest Service union wants new medical standards requiring
    firefighters to undergo physical exams before they take the newer
    fitness test, Dougan said. Such a program is to be tested in the
    Northwest next year but may cost close to $500 a person.
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  2. #2

    Join Date
    May 2002
    The Big Sky


    This certainly has huge ramifications if people blindly look at the test without considering: the job and people's life styles. Right now most agencies do not encourage or allow employees to be fit during regular hours. It would seem to me that a healthy and fit workforce would be more productive and less likely to cost the "company" a lot in health benefits. As one firefighter put it, "being healthy and fit is a life style"; I believe this, and if this is the case, employers have to realize the benefits and provide for that time. Since our job is rigorous, and we know it, and we are encouraging employees to help with fire suppression, the employer should encourage ideas that allow employees to be fit and healthy. I would also say, that most if not all of the WCT fatalities would have occurred anyway, the trigger was initiated using the WCT rather than something else, like picking bales, washing the family car, or chasing the neighbor's dog from the front lawn.
    O'Cionaoit: teine geinim

  3. #3
    Junior Member

    Join Date
    Jul 2002

    Default Re: Pack Test Deadly?

    [Family members of the victims and experts looking for safer
    alternatives to the test ....
    Pre-test screening does seem like the only reasonable solution. The idea of 'safer alternatives' implies a test that is not as rigorous. But the test needs to do what it can to duplicate the physical demands of the job. If an easier test allows someone with an incipient heart problem onto the line...and the job itself causes a cardiac emergency...they are that much further from definitive medical care, and they could potentially put their entire crew at risk.

    I wish I could offer an easy solution to the expenses that would be incurred with the needed pretest screening. And it must be remembered that even such screening is not foolproof. Seemingly fit people can have a problem that is undetectable until too late. I don't know the stories behind all of the deaths associated with the pack test, but one I heard sounded like that might have been the case.

    For those who aren't fit, if these tragic deaths can help to open some eyes, then they will not have been in vain. I agree with Celt, that being fit is a 'lifestyle'. Unfortunately it is a difficult one for our deskbound population.

    Just another 2 cents from the peanut gallery. Be safe all.

  4. #4

    Join Date
    May 2002
    The Big Sky


    From my experience with the WCT and the information that is out on the fatalities associated with it, most, and a very high percentage, of these fatalities were caused by congenital conditions. In fact, I find the WCT much easier to take and pass than the stress test or the run. Most folks who are in shape, take the test and barely break a sweat. It's not a tough test, but it does demand being in shape. Desk bound firefighters, I can relate to. But that in itself means we, and our employer have a responsibility to be fit. Screening participants will pick up some of the obvious stuff, however it won't find others, like those that have caused the recent fatalities. More elaborate physicals might detect symptoms of these conditions, however we have to follow it up. If we truely had a fit workforce, these conditions would have manifested earlier, or been detected for treatment much earlier.
    O'Cionaoit: teine geinim

  5. #5
    Junior Member

    Join Date
    Jul 2002

    Default firefighter pack test

    I feel that physicals are needed, firefighting is a very physical job it is not meant for people with heart conditions or any other medical conditions that would effect there well being or the well being of there fellow firefighters. It is meant for people that can get the job done safely.

    At least thats my opion.

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