Sick time, modified duty, and on-line injuries are consistent staple in the
fire service. Let’s face it firefighting is a very physically demanding job so
injuries will occur. So it would only make sense to have a health & wellness
program to help reduce the chances of these things from occurring. Yet
many fire departments may not have the resource to incorporate one, or
worse yet still not see the benefits of having one. During these hard
economic times it becomes difficult to justify such a program, especially
when there are layoffs, cut backs, and brown outs occurring all across the
nation. So what do you do?
Most departments will spend time a lot of time developing a comprehensive
wellness program that focuses on everything from policies for workout time
at the station to medical screenings at the local medical center. Yet one important thing usually goes unanswered. Who will oversee the program? This is an important question to answer because it will be the foundation of your program. In my experience many departments have started programs but within one year were unsuccessful in maintaining it.
There are usually two approaches that are most common when fire departments try and answer this question.
Place a Chief, Captain, or Firefighter into a position to oversee the program or
Create a team of Peer Fitness trainers to collectively run the program.
Both strategies have shown that a majority of programs effects did not remain past one year; however the long-term pattern of behaviors suggested these work sites as a whole were healthier more than 3 years following the interventions:
this should then tell us that most health and wellness programs are not meeting their full potential. Worse yet departments may not be getting any type of return on investment. So do we assume that firefighters do not want to get healthier? NO, in fact they want to know corrective strategies to help improve their health and wellness. In a study performed by the New York College of Osteopathic Medicine of New York Institute of Technology, a total of 730 surveys were returned among a potential study population of 20,590 volunteer firefighters. More than three-quarters of respondents met the criteria for being overweight or obese, and nearly 40% reported having high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or both. Most respondents expressed at least some interest in attending a fire department sponsored health lecture and participating in a fitness program.
This just proves to us that firefighters have a desire to learn more about risk factor modifications and have fire departments take a more active role in helping them improve their health. A comprehensive wellness program is a complex thing. It is more than just providing information to firefighters in regards to heart disease and exercise. To truly make a successful program their needs to be an individual the firefighters can identify with. This individual gives the program focus and a personality which allows them to change the culture. Researchers at Kent State University showed that physical fitness is an intricate, cultural construct, based on functional capacity and management expectations. Coronary heart disease is not a culturally relevant reason for workplace fitness program adherence.
They concluded that Fitness interventions must culturally adapt to the unique nature of the fire service, emphasizing functional capacity, crew dependability, and fitness/well-being strategies. With that being said, would it make more sense to hire a certified coach to oversee the program for the long term? Maybe this idea should be approached as an investment rather than an expense? Let’s take a closer look at how much an out of shape firefighter would actually cost the fire department We know based off certain studies that .there is a consistent relationship between obesity and absenteeism in the workplace. However, most studies have focused on primarily sedentary occupational groups and not firefighters. Researchers at the Institute for Biobehavioral Health Research examined the cross-sectional association between BMI and obesity and injury-related absenteeism.BMI, body fat percentage, waist circumference; injury, and injury-related absenteeism were assessed in 478 career male firefighters. One hundred and fifteen firefighters reported an injury in the previous year and the number of days absent from work due to their injury. BMI was an independent predictor of absenteeism due to injury. Firefighters meeting the definition of class II and III obesity had nearly five the number missed work days due to injury when compared to firefighters with class I obesity or those who were overweight. The attributable per capita costs of class II and III obesity-related absenteeism over the last year were $1,682.90 per firefighter, $254.00 per firefighter for class I obesity, and $74.41 per firefighter for overweight.
This suggest that’s those listed in class II and II are costing your fire department thousands even hundreds of thousands of dollars per year. (4) Let’s just say for the sake of argument you were to pay a starting salary of $65,000 to a full time certified coach (not including benefits) All he would need to do it impact 38 employees in one year to justify their position. Now multiply that by a 30 year career. That’s a savings of $1,917,480.
About the author:
Coach John Hofman CSCS, MS (aka The Fire Coach) is one of leading experts in the field of Firefighter Health and Wellness. As the strength and conditioning coach for the Sacramento Fire Department, John oversees the Wellness Centre, coordinates the department’s medical and fitness assessments, develops recruit fitness training, pre-employment medical and fitness evaluations and assists the department’s 20-certified Peer Fitness Trainers. In addition to John also works as the strength and conditioning coach for the California Regional Fire Academy, Sierra Fire Technology Program, Rocklin Fire Department, and South Placer Fire District. He also consults with the Fire Authority Self Insurance System of California.
Coach Hofman is certified by the National Strength and Conditioning Association, USA Weightlifting – Sports Performance Coach, USA Track and Field – Level 1 Coach, Functional Movement Screen, and ACE Peer Fitness Trainer. John is a sought after speaker on a variety of Firefighter Health and Wellness topics such as Fire Ground Rehabilitation, Low Back Injuries, and Developing a Health and Wellness Program. www.TheFireCoach.com
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