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Remaining Fit for Duty

The City of Mason Fire Department Keeps Physical Fitness a Priority

Athletes have long used training regimens to improve their overall physical strength and stamina to prolong their careers and prevent injuries. The same principles apply to firefighters, and the City of Mason Fire Department is providing just that for their staff of industrial athletes. 

By definition, an industrial athlete is someone who makes a living utilizing their mental and physical prowess in extreme conditions that require lifting, bending, twisting, pulling and more. 

According to Todd Day, deputy fire chief for the City of Mason, a health and wellness program is both vital for firefighters to be able to have a long career and refrain from injury and also required by law in the Ohio Revised Code. While it’s not mandatory for firefighters to participate, it is crucial for their safety. 

“If a firefighter wants to make it through their career—and more firefighters are working 30 to 38 years now—if they’re not involved in fitness from the beginning, it will be very difficult on them by the end because of the lifting involved,” Todd explains. 

More than 3,600 fire and emergency medical responses are handled each year by the City of Mason Fire Department. Of those, Todd reports that 80 percent are on the EMS side: primarily lifting people from a floor, from a bed to a cot to the ambulance and lifting equipment.

“We’re a lifting service,” Todd says. “If you think of what happens on the fire ground…[the firefighters] are wearing 50 pounds of gear to start with, then they’re carrying some kind of tool which adds more weight and doing work with that tool and gear on. So, it’s about 75 to 100 pounds of effort for a firefighter to actually do their job. All that takes a big toll and a lot of wear and tear on your body.”

According to the U.S. Fire Administration, 87 firefighters died while on duty in 2017. Of those deaths, 50 firefighters died from heart attacks. 

“We typically lose around 100 firefighters nationally each year, and most of it is related to their health and fitness level,” Todd shares. “The No. 1 cause in the majority of those deaths is cardiovascular disease, so a heart attack in the field or at home due to the strenuous nature of our work.” 

Other causes of firefighter deaths include vehicle accidents to and from emergency scenes, cancer due to long exposure of environmental toxins and on-site accidents (i.e. getting trapped, falling through a floor, running out of air in a burning building). Todd admits those instances are in the single-digit percentages.

Todd is the head of the Firefighter Fitness Program for the City of Mason and is also a liaison with the health and wellness program for the city. When he first came to the City of Mason Fire Department in 2015, he revisited the existing program and partnered with experts at the Mason Community Center to build new workout routines for the firefighters.

During his first year, Todd partnered with experts at the Mason Community Center to adapt the existing program and build new workout routines for the firefighters. The City of Mason offers an extensive health and wellness program that was established by a committee of employees, including Todd, who serve as the foundation for the City’s health and wellness mission.

The Mason Community Center is at the heart of Mason’s mission for building a culture of wellness for the community. It was built in 2003 through a partnership with Mason City Schools, then expanded in 2010 by TriHealth. Recently, TriHealth reaffirmed its commitment to the community with the current expansion of its facilities at the center which are scheduled to open in 2019. 

Mason has a unique opportunity for health and wellness through the Community Center’s amenities and programs for individuals of all ages including an indoor pool, personal trainers, nutritionists, health assessments and screenings, fitness classes and more.

City of Mason firefighter Trent Small, 32, thinks the center is a great resource for firefighters because of all the programs offered. As a firefighter, it’s not always enough to have previous athletic experience because the physically taxing situations they are put in are anything but typical.

“When you’re out on a run, you’re usually not in the best situations,” Trent says. “You’re in a bathroom, stuck in a corner, having to pick up this 300-pound person off the ground. Well, if I can deadlift a lot more than 300 pounds, it’s a lot easier on my body. But if that’s all I can do, I’m more likely to get injured…You could hurt your body, hurt your back, pull a muscle, tear a muscle, pop a joint and a lot of people get injured even in training because it’s not a natural occurrence.”

All firehouses in the City of Mason have workout equipment so their firefighters can exercise (typically an hour a day) while on the job. The health and fitness program provided by Todd helps his employees survive their career physically and to pass their competencies every year. 

“Our firefighter agility test is 10 minutes and 30 seconds of continuous movement including lifting, climbing stairs with a weighted vest, dragging a hose, lifting a [rescue mannequin] that weighs 175 pounds…it all mirrors what they do on the fire ground,” Todd says. 

According to Todd, a firefighter’s workout regimen should include a warm-up, stretching, flexibility movements (like yoga), cardiovascular fitness (running up and down stairs, rowing machines, ellipticals, etc.) and some sort of strength building activity (like using dumbbells and barbells and anything that mimics the movements they would perform on the fire ground with the weight of their gear). 

A typical workout for him involves “usually stretching, warming up my body, then a big lift like deadlifts,” Trent says. “And then I’ll do accessory work, so, something to do with the legs or the back, and then I do a MetCon (metabolic conditioning) which is shorter high-intensity training within a given time frame.” 

Another workout day for Trent could be a yoga day, where he says he performs a 30-minute yoga session followed by briskly walking for 30 minutes on a treadmill at an incline while wearing a 50-pound vest. 

Todd attributes his physical well-being to his longtime workout routine. 

“I’m 58 years old, and I really don’t have any serious health issues, thank goodness,” Todd says. “But I’ve been intentional about being healthy because I want to live a nice long life after the fire service.”

And Todd says that while that’s a big part of his life, it’s also reflective of the healthy culture in Mason.

“All the neighborhoods are built with walking paths, and most have swimming pools for activities and parks,” Todd says. “You can’t go around the city of Mason without seeing people running, walking or biking. It’s just a very health-oriented community, and the city government is also very health-oriented as well, in building not only a culture of excellence and service but building a culture of health and exhibiting that in what we do.” 

The Workout
Remaining physically fit is a crucial aspect of a firefighter’s job. All firehouses in the City of Mason have workout equipment on-site so firefighters can workout while on the job waiting for a call. A Mason City firefighter’s workout regimen includes a warm-up, stretching, flexibility movements, cardiovascular fitness and some sort of strength building activity. City of Mason firefighters also have the option to work out at the Mason Community Center (an annual pass is part of their Union contract); the Mason Community Center features the exercise equipment pictured here as well as an indoor pool, personal trainers, nutritionists, health assessments and screenings, and fitness classes.