Physical Fitness Intervention for New Firefighters

( usfa )

Firefighting is a hazardous profession and firefighters suffer workplace injury at a higher rate than most U.S. workers. Decreased physical fitness is associated with injuries to firefighters.

In an effort to decrease injuries and compensation claims/costs, the Tucson Fire Department piloted a Probationary Firefighter Fitness (PFF-Fit) program in 2012-2013 during the recruit academy and over the probationary year.

Key elements of the Tucson program

  • Peer Fitness Trainers (PFTs) certified by the American Council of Exercise conducted the training sessions.
  • Training was performed three days per week during the recruit academy and included strength, cardio and flexibility.
  • Activities similar to emergency response tasks, such as hose pulling and axe swings, were included.
  • Recruits also worked with PFTs for in-station, phone or email exercise and nutrition consultations in the probationary year.

The fire service would benefit from better data collection and recordkeeping at the department and individual levels, including the integration of data systems for occupational injury, workers’ compensation claims, and measures of fitness and health.
— Stephanie Griffin, PhD, University of Arizona

Research takeaways

A research team evaluated the effectiveness of the Tucson program and here’s what they found:

  • The challenge: Higher levels of fitness among firefighters are associated with a decreased risk of non-exercise related injury but nearly a third of occupational injuries occur during physical training or exercise.
  • This structured fitness program produced a positive return on investment of 2.4 percent.
  • Occupational injury frequency and workers’ compensation claims costs were reduced following implementation of the PFF-Fit intervention.
  • Researchers hypothesize that improved structure and management of fitness training was an important factor in avoiding exercise injuries.
  • More research is needed to identify the safest, and most effective, fitness programs for the fire service.

Griffin, S. C., Regan, T. L., Harber, P., Lutz, E. A., Hu, C., Peate, W. F., & Burgess, J. L. (2015). Evaluation of a fitness intervention for new firefighters: injury reduction and economic benefits. Injury Prevention, 22(3), 181-188. doi:10.1136/injuryprev-2015-041785

Learn more about this research

Full text of this research article is available at BMJ Journals.