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Firefighting is a physically demanding job that requires a physically fit responder. As with all public safety roles, physical fitness is of the utmost importance for those working in this role, since an unfit firefighter carries a greater risk of injury, and potentially can create a distraction to the emergency scenario to which the fire department is responding. If our first responders have to take their duties away from the accident scene to attend to an injured firefighter, then that resource is not available during the emergency response.

In 2020, the SC Municipal Insurance Trust handled 240 firefighter injury claims, and 62% of the dollars paid went toward claims that resulted from strains or sprains. Physically fit firefighters are generally less prone to injury, so training exercises and physical fitness programs are recommended to be prepared to carry out the job duties during the emergency response.

As anyone who has put on an air tank and turnout gear knows, firefighting equipment is heavy. Wearing it creates a hot working temperature that can be physically straining even before the firefighter enters a burning structure.

Fire departments should develop a health and wellness guide that includes an on-duty fitness program that recommends daily physical activities that can help with endurance, strength, and proper fitness techniques. The wellness guide should also include nutritional best practices to use in the firehouse. Making a practice of eating healthy, well-balanced meals can help eliminate some of the health concerns of firefighters exerting themselves during extensive training or on-site emergencies.

Be sure to consult the local fire chief for recommendations on training requirements, and when the department can implement a new health and wellness regimen. Some fire chiefs do not recommend specific exercises or activities because of previous injuries that occurred during these sessions.

For questions about good physical exercise for firefighters, a quick online search can produce more than a hundred articles on firefighters’ physical fitness and trends. Some are even detailed, indicating a recommended number of reps during exercises and resting time between sets, for daily and weekly exercise schedules. Many subscription publications can help with a physical fitness regimen and exercise tracking devices can help as well.

The staff at the Municipal Association’s Risk Management Services wants first responders to go home in the same condition they arrived at work: safely, and with 10 toes and 10 fingers. The better shape that firefighters are in, the better chances they will have to maintain this level of safety. 

For questions on firefighter fitness, contact losscontrol@masc.sc.