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If you’re unfit and overweight you’re a liability as a firefighter

Have a look around at the crew you are working with, be it career or volunteer emergency service worker. If they are unfit and/or overweight, I think they are a liability to you and/or your mates. Let me explain why.

1) An unfit first responder can be a liability and may get you injured or killed

You have a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 30+ and the best you do for exercise is walk to the fridge to get another beer or you’re the one that orders an entree, main and dessert at the restaurant with beer and wine. When it comes to training, you suck the air out of the breathing apparatus twice as fast as your mates. You need a special uniform made for you. You depend on what you have left in strength to justify your existence but your heart is racing and blood pressure is up.

You think you can still do the job but all you are doing is putting the crew at risk. They cannot depend on you in an emergency to do your task, you may be putting the very people you are trying to rescue at risk and overloading your colleagues that are covering for you. There is a high probability that you will become the one at risk, having to be rescued and again putting your mates at danger. Have you also considered your own health and the damage to your family and friends if you are incapacitated or die?

There are two things firefighters are passionate about looking after their colleagues and rescuing those in danger. If you cannot do this because of your physical condition and that condition is within your control, you not really a firefighter.

2) Unfit first responders bring down crew cohesion and morale

Fit crew members resent greatly unfit members. Look at a case where an unfit firefighter is always relegated to pump operator during a structural fire while the other members on the truck did their job and his. They resent him greatly as he is making the same money and had the same status as a “firefighter” – but obviously couldn’t do the job. At volunteer stations, it is not only those with a high BMI but firefighters that have had their age catch up with them. I’m not saying there is a shut off age point, but we all know that as we get older we cross the ‘too old to respond’ point and we should make that decision and not wait someone to tap us on the shoulder. Make no mistake if you are not seen to be able to do the job you are talked about behind your back.

Three things are needed:

  • A clear set of task related fitness attributes for first responders that must be adhered to.
  • A fully intergrated health and welfare program, from recruit training to retirement
  • A safety net for those who despite all they do cannot make the grade
  • A transition process for departments introducing for the first time a task based health and fitness program.

Leaders to set the example

Like everything in leadership it’s not what you say it’s what you do in leading by example that makes the difference. Your actions should not be because you have a duty of care to your people but because it’s the right thing to do. This problem is not going to go away so work with your people in the interest of your people to make everyone fit for duty.

For more information, email neil.bibby@mdmpublishing.com

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Asia Pacific Fire, Editor

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