Making Fitness a Part of the Fight

( The Volunteer Firefighter )

By Robert Blaufarb, Mamaroneck Fire Department Director of Health and Wellness

Mission Statement: The Town of Mamaroneck Fire Department is committed to the achievement of the highest quality of health and wellness for our men and women and their families.

Philosophy: To achieve optimal health and fitness throughout the firefighter’s career and facilitate maximum health and fitness to carry over into retirement.

In 1992, when I became a member of the Town of Mamaroneck Fire Department, the culture of health and fitness looked quite different than it does today. We were housed in an empty warehouse because our house was undergoing renovation.

The culture in our house more or less resembled the norm in most of the firehouses I visited. There were no facilities or equipment available for the men and women to engage in physical fitness. Meals after fires, drills and meetings consisted of pizza and other less-than-nutritious offerings.

As the renovations were underway, I noticed that within the blueprints was a room not specifically earmarked for intended usage. I requested a meeting with the department Chief to pitch the idea of having a dedicated fitness center. When the renovations were completed, our members were allowed back into the house to tour the updated and completely modernized firehouse.

I was very excited to get into the building to see what, if anything, was relegated to the room I had envisioned as a training facility. I stood in front of the locked door and was ecstatic to see a plate on the door with the words “Training Room” inscribed.

Today, that empty room is a fully-equipped gym with aerobic and resistance training machines and weights. This process happened very slowly. Buying one or two new pieces of equipment each year was supplemented by generous donations from homeowners in the community.

For several years, the room was a work in progress with me and a few other firefighters being the only ones engaging in fitness workouts.

As a physical and health educator with a Master’s degree, I constantly encouraged our members to take advantage of this incredibly convenient and free offering. The interest was small to be sure and not much changed as the years went by, with possibly one or two more members becoming interested.

At the same time, the gym was beginning to look like a very professional facility. That’s when the idea to create an official office of health and wellness for the Town Fire Department came to me. The next thing I did was to invest two years in an intensive certification journey which resulted in New York State certification as a health coach and certificates in exercise physiology, including nutrition and lifestyle adjustments.

As of today, the Town of Mamaroneck Fire Department has a fully-equipped gym with special emphasis on firefighter training, fitness and health. The program is supervised by a Director and a Committee. For my efforts, I was delegated the title of Director of Health and Wellness.

The positive benefits of this program involve, among other things, improved health and fitness, lifestyle adjustments to facilitate these improvements, improved productivity and energy, and increased levels of job performance.

One of the most important benefits of a health and wellness program is the significant reduction of risk factors for chronic illness and disease. A sense of higher morale and self-esteem is a natural by-product of increased levels of health and fitness.

To be sure, there are a number of potential issues that must be addressed. However, none of these issues are related to the significant improvement of our firefighter’s health and fitness. These issues are generally logistical such as changing attitudes, potential injuries in the training facility, maintenance, support of the Chief and the town administration, time allotment and finances are just a few.

After 25 years, we now have a state-of-the-art training facility, a health and wellness program, a fully certified director, a special fitness and support system for CPAT testing and rehabilitation of injuries incurred during the performance of our jobs.

More than 20 members work out daily, eat more nutritiously and enjoy a significant reduction of risk factors for chronic illness and disease. The health and wellness program includes the families of our firefighters, as we are all one family.

Robert Blaufarb is Director of Health and Wellness for the Town of Mamaroneck FD. He is a 25-year veteran of the fire service and served as Captain of Engine Co. No. 37. Blaufarb is a New York State-certified health coach with a Master’s in health and physical education and many certifications in the wellness field.