The Third Annual National Firefighter Health Week began yesterday during a time when many of the nation's cash-strapped rural and volunteer fire departments are focused more on their financial health.
"It's always a struggle for volunteer departments to get money for health and well programs," NVFC spokeswoman Kimberly Ettinger said; adding that with the state of the economy it is something that is often forgotten about.
She also noted that while some believe they can't afford the cost of a health and wellness program, it just isn't the case.
Recruiting a sponsor to help pay for the program is one avenue a department may pursue, she said. Another way to help pay for the program is to develop partnerships. Local fitness centers can donate old equipment or a nutritionist can volunteer their time to talk about ways for the department to eat healthier.
Other options that don't cost any extra money include buying and cooking smarter and doing exercises that don't involve equipment or ones that use equipment already in the firehouse.
She said firefighters can run steps in their gear or lift heavy gear to get the same effect they would from weights.
"That's really what you need to be training for and it doesn't cost extra," she said.
Ettinger also suggested departments have an internal advocate for health and wellness. This person would help develop goals and ways to obtain them.
"It's the best way to do it," she said. "Otherwise the issue tends to be pushed to the wayside."
She also urged departments to think outside of the box when it comes to health and wellness; saying mental well being and using equipment properly can be just as important as eat healthy and exercising.
"We really encourage departments on focusing on these different things," she said. "It's just taking that lifestyle step to decide to focus on that."
Through the NVFC's Adopt the Program Web site, departments can sign up for free and access various resources and create their own page to track its goals.
While departments are struggling with costs, NVFC is no different. The organization's Heart Healthy Program -- launched in 2004 -- has hosted screenings and cooking demos at about four national conventions annually in recent years. But due to the program's lack of funding, the organization wasn't able host either this year at Firehouse Expo in Baltimore and is not planning on bringing them to any show this year.
"Unfortunately, we didn't get enough in the grant for that this year but we hope to bring them back in the future," she said. "We also are currently contemplating the best direction we want to see the program go in."