Time To Be Our Own Heroes

By Alex Ruckh, FASNY Health and Wellness Committee

It’s zero dark thirty, it’s cold, I’m tired … It’s gym time at the hall.

It’s mid-April, so that only means one thing: training for the Murph Challenge. This challenge is in honor of Lieutenant Michael Murphy, who was highlighted in the book and movie “Lone Survivor.”

The challenge consists of a one-mile run, 100 pull-ups, 200 push-ups, 300 squats and another one-mile run – all while wearing a 20-pound weighted vest. I remember that when “Lone Survivor” and “American Sniper” came out, it was the buzz at the fire hall to see. It was watching the elite Seal teams do what they do best: overcome the impossible to complete the mission. These operators are designated as Special Forces. Special Forces are described as military units trained to perform unconventional missions.

Just stop and think of these men and the physical condition they need to be in to perform these tasks. The physical requirements to qualify for these positions are phenomenal. Many try out, but only a few earn the honor of being called Special Forces. But, that’s how we want it, right? We want the mentally and physically strongest individuals being the tip of the spear in our battles.

Let’s look back at that definition: Special Forces are military units trained to perform unconventional missions. The last time I checked, a structure fire, rope rescue, entrapment or almost anything our tones drop for are unconventional missions. If they were easy, anyone could do it. As firefighters, we are the tip of the spear of emergency response.

We had an open house when I first started and one of my lieutenants was giving a presentation on how we operate in a structure fire and I overheard a young boy, probably 4 or 5 years old, turn to his mother and say, “Mommy he’s fat, how could he make it to me in a fire?”. So, tell me how a 5-year-old can understand our problem and we as firefighters can’t see it.

Back in the day when we were burnt by running into fires in street clothes, we developed bunker gear. When we couldn’t breathe, we developed SCBAs. When we were riding on the back of trucks and falling off, we changed SOGs to save lives. The bottom line is we evolved, we created a culture of safety.

However, with fitness, we are devolving at a deadly pace. I recently sat in on a fire safety class where this fire instructor was preaching safety this, safety that, wear your seatbelt … but not once did he mention firefighter fitness. This instructor was wheezing while walking around because he was clearly out of shape, preaching safety! Really?

How about a culture of fitness? Why? Because someone that takes the time to be physically and mentally healthy is not the one being stupid on the fireground.

We as volunteer firefighters hate it when career firefighters get called “professional firefighters.” We whine and say, “What about us? We so the same thing!”. Do the majority of us look like professionals in our tent-sized turnout gear and dress uniforms?

Ray McCormack stood there at the Fire Department Instructors Conference and stated the public is our customer and the customer is always right. And that 5-year-old boy who called out my out-of-shape Lieutenant was absolutely right. If you don’t expect a Seal team member, a police officer or even a lifeguard to be out of shape, then why do we allow ourselves to be? We owe it to the public to be at our best. I’m not saying we as volunteer firefighters need to be built like The Rock or Arnold, but we need to physically ready to do our tasks without dying.

Some of you reading this might be mad at me – offended, or even wanting to find a safe zone and act like you didn’t read this. I don’t care, because I’m right.

Why am I right? Because there is a wall of Line of Duty Deaths that says I’m right. There are graphs and studies that say I’m right. Open any fire magazine to the Line of Duty Death page: cause of death … heart attack, heart attack, CVA, CVA, heart attack …

Wake up!

How often do we read about cars that get swept away in flood conditions? Same old story … the car drove around the barriers, passed all the signs that said “washed out road, do not cross.” Our reaction is something like “Idiot! They didn’t listen!”.

The same can be applied to our situation, as countless studies, graphs and organizations have released findings stating cardiacrelated issues are the leading cause of Line of Duty Deaths. Those are our “washed out road signs” that are being ignored!

So, here is the last chapter of your life that is not written yet. That drive, that motivation, that caused you to want to be a firefighter needs to be used to become your own hero. If we are willing to run inside burning buildings, repel off of cliffs and crawl into a confined space to save the victim, then we can certainly save ourselves from becoming cardiac-related Line of Duty Deaths.

The time for just wishing has passed. The time for doing? That’s right now. Time to act on your dreams. It’s time to look into yourselves and know that only you are in charge of your destiny.

Be your own hero. Change the way you live, the way you eat, the way you exercise, the way you look at life. Now, go out and make that save!