Firefightingis one of the physically demanding professions since it involves alot of heavy lifting, movement, as well as conditions that requirequick maneuver. Today, the fire service is faced with serious healthissues in its workforce due to poor health, obesity,cardiovascular-related deaths, and behavioral concerns (Poston,Haddock & Sue 2013). Consequently, there has been an intensedebate on the necessity of assessing the firefighters’ level ofphysical fitness before they can start working (Kissinger, 2002). Insome cases, standards for eligibility have been introduced for bothfull-time and volunteer firefighters. The question remains whetherphysical fitness should be a requirement in a job that demands a lotof sacrifice and commitment. Should passion for the career overridethe physical requirements that the firefighting profession demands?Some people claim that applicants should not be evaluated accordingto their vigor, but recent changes have led to different opinions(Kissinger, 2002). Firefighters are faced with difficult situationswhere their actions can mean the survival or death of a civilian andtheir colleagues. Therefore, job circumstances show that physicalfitness tests should be a requirement because it will lead to betterperformance, reduce the likelihood of accidents, and improve thehealth of firefighters.
First,a fitness test would enable each member of the team to know the rangeand extent of his or her abilities to improve the work performance.When tasks and responsibilities are being handed out in a firestation, it is vital to know the capability of each employee inhandling the duties they are assigned. Such an approach would help inthe drafting the work plans and posting personnel to workstationswith tasks that match their abilities (Kissinger, 2002). The only waythat each person’s strengths and weaknesses can be pinpointed isthrough a fitness test that measures an individual’s abilityagainst a set standard. Kissinger (2002) argues that this would makeit easier to allocate assignments since various duties in the fireservice require a different set of skills. Moreover, workers with lowfitness levels would be exempted from physically demanding orhigh-risk tasks (Kissinger, 2002).
Additionally,physical fitness tests for firefighters are necessary to improve thehealth these professionals. Implementing health standards decreasethe incidences of obesity and cardiovascular complications prevalentamong firefighters (Livingston, 2006). Research shows that a largenumber of these service providers in the country are overweightdespite the physically demanding nature of their job. On the otherhand, the firefighters have a hectic schedule, which means that mostof them take fast foods on a regular basis thus, contributing to theincreased cases of overweight problems. Besides, most firedepartments do not have fitness routines or exercise equipment forthe employees to use when they are off-duty (Livingston, 2006). Onthe other hand, the firefighting job can take a physical andemotional toll on an individual hence, obesity presents furthercomplications. Rose (2012) argues that obesity is directly linked tothe occurrence of job-related disabilities and on-duty deaths. Sincethe country does not have nationally enforced standards, firefightersare only required to demonstrate an ability to handle the physicaltasks. Therefore, Rose (2012), states that there is a need to set astandard of fitness to help these workers overcome the problemsassociated with poor physical health.
Furthermore,body fitness would reduce accidents and on-duty injuries. Maintainingfitness through regular exercises and a healthy diet will increasethe firefighters’ stamina, which facilitates will improveperformance. Poston, Haddock & Sue (2013), explain that many ofjob-related deaths in the fire service are a result of poor fitness,which makes the firefighters susceptible to severe injuries.Additionally, studies have shown that obese firefighters are morelikely to suffer musculoskeletal injuries as compared to their fitcounterparts. Therefore, improved fitness would decrease suchincidences and job-related deaths (Livingston, 2006). Additionally,it will reduce the spending on healthcare.
Therehas been a collaborative effort from relevant authorities who aretrying to implement the fitness program. However, the plan wouldrequire various components for it to be successful. The first stageof a health program would be fitness testing. The procedure wouldinclude an annual evaluation of personnel’s cardiovascular health,flexibility, and endurance during exercises (Poston, Haddock &Sue, 2013). Subsequently, it would be necessary to give certificatesto those firefighters who pass the tests to verify that they can workin psychically demanding conditions. Pynes (1996) also shows theimportance of conducting medical evaluations on the firefighters. Theexaminations would entail urine, blood, pulmonary, cardiovascular,and vision checkup to ensure that these professionals are at optimalhealth. Moreover, it will help the officials devise appropriatestrategies to handle various health issues discovered from the tests(Poston, Haddock & Sue, 2013).
Pynes(1996) also adds that implementation of a health and fitness planwould include injury avoidance and recovery. The program shouldincorporate education on how to avoid occupational injuries andprevent illnesses. On the other hand, rehabilitation would involvesetting up facilities that would help the firefighters recover incase of accidents and return to duty within the shortest timepossible. It would also promote an enduring safety culture throughrecognition programs and incentives (Pynes, 1996). Then again, ahealth and fitness plan should have behavioral health promotion tofacilitate incident stress debriefing. Therefore, it will help theadministration deal with emotional and behavioral problems beforethey get out of hand. The last stage is data collection to assess theprogress of the program and for comparison purposes (Pynes, 1996).According to research conducted by Poston, Haddock & Sue (2013),the firefighters who participate in a health program are less likelyto suffer from anxiety disorder due to emotionally challenging work.Besides, they are not affected by the use of alcohol and smokelesstobacco. The participation in a healthy and fitness program promotesoptimism, a greater sense of accomplishment, and job satisfaction(Poston, Haddock & Sue 2013).
Accordingto Poston, Haddock & Sue (2013), the fire department has only afew health promotion programs that have been specifically designedfor their workers. Therefore, a national standardized firefighterfitness program is needed, but several technical issues should beaddressed before it can be set up. First, the firefightingdepartments should hire a health and fitness coordinator. Theprofessional would act as the administrator of the program and makesure that the firefighters do not neglect the fitness schedules andregulations (Pynes, 1996). However, it is important to ensure thatthe coordinator has formal certification and experience in a relevantfield. Even so, funding is an issue in almost all government agenciesin the country as most of them are required to operate efficientlydespite the massive budget reductions due to the economic downturn.Hence, obtaining funds for the implementation of the program might bechallenging. Besides, getting money from grants and federal resourceswould take time and lead to delays (Pynes, 1996).
Nonetheless,it is important to have a detailed plan so that fitness assessmentscan be scheduled in a smooth and seamless manner that does not causeinconveniencesor interfere with the work schedule. Otherwise, poor planning wouldmean that the standardized fitness program would not achieve itsgoals and this could lead to loss of funding (Rose, 2012). Thenagain, the administration has to ensure that the employees arecooperative by showing them the benefits of having a fitness program.Some workers can show resistance towards the plan due to theperception that it may lead to loss of jobs. However, the managementhas to assure them that the initiative is primarily to help thembecome healthier so that they carry out their tasks competently(Rose, 2012).
Inconclusion, firefighting is a physically demanding job thus, bodyfitness should be a priority. Health evaluations can be conductedthrough standardized fitness tests. The implementation of such aprogram would be a good initiative in helping firefighters deal withmajor health issues. Current studies show that there are increasedcases of obesity and cardiovascular illnesses among firefighters,which proves the need for physical fitness tests. Therefore, theprogram will reduce obesity since any indication of overweight wouldrequire the firefighter to engage in regular exercises and have dietchange to deal with the issue before it becomes a hindrance toeffective performance at work. It will also reduce on-duty deathsassociated with cardiovascular complications. Besides, it is a goodmeasure of an individual’s capabilities so that they can beassigned duties according to their strength. Proper planning andimplementation could reduce injuries, lost work days, and improvedperformance. Conversely, the fitness project is the best way topromote job satisfaction among firefighters, which can improveperformance. Implementation of a fitness and health program wouldinclude medical evaluation, injury avoidance, rehabilitation, andbehavioral health promotion. Nevertheless, there are technical issuesthat should be addressed for this initiative to prove successful. Therelevant authorities should appoint a health and fitness coordinatorto help the workers maintain regular exercise routines and healthyeating habits within their budgets and tight work schedules. Theprogram cannot be implemented without the necessary funds. Mostfirefighting departments also lack proper fitness training equipmentthat can help the workers maintain healthy body mass. Nonetheless,the benefits outweigh the costs hence, a national standardizedfirefighter fitness program is needed to promote firefighters’well-being and productivity.
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Livingston,B. (2006). Wanted: A national standardized firefighter fitnessprogram. FireManagement Today, 66 (2),32.
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Pynes,J.E. (1996). Implementinghealthand fitness for firefighters. PublicPersonnel Management,25(2),237.
Rose,M. (2012). Fit to Fight? FireChief,56(2),8-12.