99 for 99

From David Harbison

Fire & Iron MC Station 99 is a group of firefighters and their supporters. We are dedicated to promoting physical fitness among the ranks of volunteer firefighters.

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Firefighting is a job that requires extraordinary mental and physical fitness. NFPA code 1582 helps to outline the standards to make sure firefighters are performing at their best. Part of this equation is the physical fitness examination. This exam is done when firefighters first join the department. Some departments may elect to perform the assessment each year to make sure that members are keeping themselves in shape, or improving their fitness.

Tests Performed During NFPA 1582 Fitness Evaluation

The specific exercises are up to each department, but NFPA 1582 and NFPA 1583 detail exactly which aspects of physical performance need to be measured. 

Firefighters need strong aerobic capacity for the rigors of the everyday job which can include running up stairs, climbing ladders and more. This is all while carrying up to 75 pounds of PPE, depending on the job.  Departments can test for aerobic capacity in a variety of ways. Some departments may opt for outdoor shuttle runs between cones to test more recruits at the same time, with heart rate monitoring equipment on site. Higher tech options include running on treadmills while hooked to ECG machines.  The target heart rate to achieve for candidates and new hires during this exercise depends on the firefighter’s age, and can be calculated with the equation: Target exercise heart rate = [208 – (0.7 × age)] × 0.85.  These exercises will test the stress that an individual’s heart rate can endure and how quickly it recovers after exercise is over, measuring a firefighter’s oxygen consumption (V02) max. This helps duplicate the quick bursts of action that a firefighter will need to perform on the job. A physician must be on hand to complete this portion of the examination.

Body composition is the fat to muscle ratio of a person - it is a useful measurement to assess how fit a person is for duty. It is measured first by taking the active or prospective firefighter’s Body Mass Index (BMI), which can be calculated by weight(kg)/height(m)2. BMI alone doesn’t determine how in shape someone is. For example, a short, muscular person may have a relatively high BMI, but be extremely fit. That is why skinfold tests in certain target areas around the body - including the triceps, abdominals and lower back - are laid out in NFPA 1582. While this is not a test of performance, the overall goal is a reduction in body fat percentage, and a targeted workout routine, along with a proper diet can lower this figure.

From gripping a firehose to lifting and carrying heavy objects during an emergency, a sure grip is a strong asset to a firefighter. NFPA 1582 requires grip strength to be measured using a Jamar Hydraulic Hand Dynamometer. The test simply involves gripping the dynamometer as hard as possible to measure the force of one’s grip. A firefighter candidate will get three attempts on each hand, with the highest score of either hand recorded as the result.

Powering upstairs, pushing large obstacles and pretty much every major strength task of firefighting involves leg strength. NFPA 1582 requires departments to perform the test using the Jackson Strength Evaluation System.  This involves standing on a plate with knees bent and back and arms straight. Holding two handles attached to the plate by a chain, the firefighter presses up with their legs for three seconds. The test is performed three times with 30 second rests between each test, and the best result of the three is taken. Another component is leg power. Performed on a jumping mat connected to a computer, the firefighter will squat and then jump into the air. When both feet land back on the mat, the computer calculates the hang time and vertical jump. This number is then used in an equation based on the participant’s body weight to determine leg power.

Obviously, arm power is important so firefighters can lift and carry the heavy equipment associated with this profession. Like leg strength, arm strength is evaluated on the Jackson Strength Evaluation System. Participants stand on the platform with a bar in their hands, arms bent to 90 degrees. Without shrugging the shoulders, or bending their back, they must curl the bar up for 3 seconds. After resting 30 seconds, this is repeated a second and third time with the highest force recorded.

While many of the earlier exercises are testing for raw power, the pushup test looks for muscular endurance. With a five-inch block place under the firefighter’s chin, they will lower themselves down to the block and back up using correct pushup form. The test is performed with a metronome giving the participant a tempo to perform the pushups. The goal is as many pushups as one can do within two minutes. The test is over if the participant reaches 80 pushups, does three incorrect pushups in a row, or doesn’t maintain continuous motion with the metronome. An alternate, optional version of the test involves using pushup handles. The only difference besides the use of the handles is that the block under the chin is increased in height to include the height of the handles.

In previous versions of the NFPA 1582 physical fitness test, participants were required to perform curl-ups and sit-ups as a test of muscular endurance. This has been changed to a planking challenge in order to better measure endurance and keep participants from an injury that sit-ups can often cause. For this test, firefighters must place their forearms on the ground with their elbows directly below their shoulders and arms bent at 90 degrees. Lifting their core and knees off the ground to a flat back starts the stopwatch. Warnings are given any time form is broken, and three warnings mean the test is over and the timer is stopped.

Like core stabilization, flexibility tests were modified from earlier NFPA 1582 standards to help account for differences in limb length. This test uses a Novel Acuflex I to help measure flexibility in the lower back, hamstring muscles, and shoulders. Sitting with the back and shoulders against a wall and legs straight out in front, the sit and reach measurement tool is placed flat against the feet. Next, the participant places both hands straight out in front of their body, right hand over left to get an accurate starting point. Then, slowly and steadily, they must push the measuring device forward as they extend the arms towards their feet. Any bending of the knees, bouncing or use of momentum to push further forward ends the test. After three evaluations with 30-second rest in between, the top measurement is taken. 

Unfortunately, the ability to maintain these standards diminishes over time within the volunteer fire service due to time constraints, training requirements, career obligations, and family obligations.  Our desire is to place exercise equipment within local volunteer fire companies that experience severe budget shortages and consider such equipment an unobtainable luxury.  

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