Despite their image as lean, muscular fire-fighting machines, the most common cause of on-duty deaths among Chicago firefighters is heart attack, fire officials said.
Chicago Fire Commissioner Cortez Trotter announced Thursday a new program to encourage better physical fitness among city firefighters.
The program comes in response to a county commission that investigated the fatal fire at the 69 W. Washington St. building Oct. 17, 2003, where six people died.
Increasing physical fitness among firefighters was among the 20 recommendations of the commission, along with changing procedures for evacuating buildings and searching stairwells.
Although applicants must pass a rigorous physical test to become Chicago firefighters, there is no annual test to remain a firefighter, even for firefighters specifically assigned to rescue tasks. Trotter said such a requirement has been proposed to the firefighters' union for negotiation.
For now, fire officials hope increased awareness of fitness and nutrition, along with tools, videos and new fitness equipment, will help.
The newly announced Health and Fitness Program will provide the following to all Chicago firehouses:
A 20-minute fitness video created by the department;
Nutritional information for firehouse kitchens;
Nutritional cooking classes for firehouse cooks;
Physical evaluations by a department physician;
A volunteer "wellness committee" to encourage participation at health and fitness events;
Posters featuring department members committed to fitness; and
Discount memberships at health clubs in Chicago.
Trotter also eliminated some restrictions on when firefighters can work out at the firehouse. Bally's Health Club is donating some equipment for firehouses.
"We must work together as a department to maintain a level of health and fitness that will further improve our ability to serve the people of Chicago," Trotter said Thursday in a written statement.