Texas Department Puts Fitness at the Forefront

June 8, 2013
Lubbock firefighters work as part of a four-person crew and if one person wears out, then the whole crew will be affected.

June 08--Years ago it wasn't uncommon for firefighters to regularly eat meals consisting of fried foods and to top them off with a cigarette. "Eating was a big part of what we did," said Lubbock Fire Department Lt. Nick Wilson. "(There's) really a conscious effort to eat healthy, whereas not that long ago you'd have been run out of the fire station for even suggesting something like that."

Now, the 15-year veteran says you're the odd man out of if you don't eat healthy.

"The No. 1 killer of firefighters is not dying in fires -- it's heart attacks," Wilson said. "We go from a dead sleep in the middle of the night to adrenaline -- 100 percent of your maximum heart rate in just a matter of seconds, and that's very hard on the body."

In the past, some firefighters with marginal or poor fitness levels have died of heart attacks after fighting fires, Wilson said. Fighting fires puts a body at risk for overheating and becoming dehydrated, which puts a strain on the cardiovascular system.

"It became a point of emphasis probably starting about 20 years ago, because we're tired of killing firefighters this way. It's completely preventable by eating right and maintaining a higher level of physical fitness," Wilson said.

Now, firefighters are leading healthier lifestyles, and that begins in the application process. Every year Lubbock firefighters go through mandatory medical testing and a physical fitness test.

"The physical fitness testing we use right now is called the CPAT -- candidate physical ability test," said Wilson.

It's a nationally recognized test that has become a standard because it has never failed a court challenge and is completely applicable to the job, he said.

"It has stood the test of time," Wilson said.

The International Associations of Firefighters and The International Associations of Fire Chiefs conducted research and developed the CPAT, Wilson said. The test consists of eight events, and applicants have 10 minutes and 30 seconds to complete the test.

"We probably have about an 80 percent pass (rate), but on that we also spend a lot of time with the people who are taking the test during orientation," Wilson said. "We want them to succeed."

The first week of June, applicants will be allowed to practice the CPAT at the Lubbock Fire Department's headquarters, 1515 E. Ursuline St.

By the time a person has applied to the Lubbock Fire Department, he or she has already been certified by the state as a structural firefighter and at least as an EMT-Basic. Wilson said the typical applicant has spent more than two years attaining certification through an accredited school, such as South Plains College.

"The way we do, we get the people who are serious about it," Wilson said. "The two big things we look for are intelligent people and physically fit people."

Applicants preparing for the CPAT will train for specific tasks. Wilson said they are encouraged to use interval workouts to prepare for the test and recruit orientation.

"Most of what we do is very high intensity, but very short duration," Wilson said.

Firefighters often carry 60 to 70 pounds of gear and protective clothing while they're working, and adverse weather also edges the difficulty level up.

"Then particularly in the summertime when it's 100-plus degrees outside, it's very hard on the body, so it's a very specialized way of training," Wilson said.

The CPAT represents certain aspects of firefighting, but newly hired recruits are put through a different type of training. Recruits will be put through high-intensity interval training where a person's heart rate will climb and then during the rest the heart rate comes down, Wilson said.

Recruits preparing for their new profession will attend recruit orientation five days a week for six weeks with the Lubbock Fire Department. A good part of a recruit's day is physically demanding, and then at the end of the day recruits will be put through actual physical fitness training, Wilson said.

"They're already tired before they do the actual prescribed physical fitness," he said.

Recruits may have been carrying hoses or equipment up and down the seven-story drill tower, Wilson said. Most of the new firefighters will say the academic part of recruit orientation is demanding, but they weren't prepared for the physical aspect of the training.

"Even guys who think they're in good physical condition find out pretty much the first day that they're not in as good of physical condition as they thought," Wilson said.

He recalled an applicant in the last recruit orientation who was a triathlete and was in very good shape. However, carrying equipment up and down the seven flights of stairs of the drill tower challenged him.

"When you put somebody in gear and you start carrying it up stairs, it just wipes them out," Wilson said.

Firefighters work as part of a four-person crew and if one person wears out, then the whole crew will be affected. Wilson said firefighters are required by policy to work out at least one hour a shift, but a lot work out twice over the course of their 24-hour shift.

"We don't want any one person to be a weak link," Wilson said.

Each fire station is equipped with weights and cardio equipment, and it would not be uncommon for on-duty firefighters to take the fire engine to a nearby school track so firefighters can run.

The way firefighters work out varies, Wilson said. Some members of the department train particularly for their job, but others are involved with sports and train more specifically for that sport.

"We have everything from power lifters to bodybuilders to Cross Fitters," Wilson said.

[email protected]

-- 766-2159

Follow Jennifer on Twitter @ the_scoop78

Source: http://www.iaff.org/hs/CPAT/cpat_index.html

Copyright 2013 - Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, Texas

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