How to buy fire station fitness equipment
You can't simply throw money at firefighter fitness and expect results; here's how to get the most for your fitness-equipment dollar
By Robert Avsec
Before you start looking at fitness equipment options for your department, take the reverse engineering approach. Begin with the end in mind.
The applicable NFPA standard, NFPA 1583: Standard on Health-Related Fitness Programs for Fire Department Members, provides guidance and direction for the development and implementation of a wellness and fitness program in a department.
The standard is very focused on developing overall wellness and fitness program, but Annex B (Sample Fitness Plan) and Annex C (Self-Assessment Tool) are very useful to help determine what fitness equipment will best meet your needs.
First, consider how much space is available in the fire station. Many fitness equipment vendors can better meet your needs, and even design equipment packages, if you can provide the amount of available square footage.
Also factor in how many people will be using the equipment at a given time. For example, you'll need more than one treadmill if there are five members on duty and that's the only piece of cardiovascular equipment that you can purchase. While more difficult to calculate, this is just as important for volunteer and combination departments.
The amount of use is also a consideration for the wear and tear on the equipment and whether to buy a high-end, home-use device or a moderately priced commercial-grade piece of equipment.
Figure out what kind of equipment the firefighters are more likely to use. It doesn't make sense to buy a stationary bike when nobody likes to cycle; the money is better spent on something everyone is likely to use.
And of course, know how much your department can afford. Look not only at the initial purchase price of the equipment, but also at the "service after the sale" costs. This will include things like warranties, service-call charges and preventive maintenance.
8 CPAT tasks
The eight firefighter tasks outlined in the Candidate Physical Abilities Test are part of the Fire Service Joint Labor Management Wellness-Fitness Initiative that was developed by the International Association of Fire Fighters and the International Association of Fire Chiefs. These tasks are the best simulations of the challenges that a firefighter must be physically prepared to encounter while on the job.
When purchasing fitness equipment consider what would best serve incumbent firefighters looking to maintain their ability to physically do their jobs. Keep in mind that as the prospective firefighter takes the CPAT, they wear a 50-pound vest throughout the eight events to simulate the weight of turnout gear and SCBA.
Share these eight firefighting tasks with fitness equipment vendors as you do your research to find the most effective fitness equipment for your money. Ask vendors what equipment would best develop the necessary cardiovascular and musculoskeletal system performance to complete these tasks.
1. Climbing stairs in full PPE while carrying a high-risk pack
The firefighter wears a 12.5-pound weight on each shoulder, replicating the weight of a high-risk pack (the hose bundle) while they climb stairs on a mechanical stair climber.
2. Dragging a dry hose line
The candidate places a nozzle attached to 200 feet of hose line over the shoulder or across the chest. They then run or walk dragging the hose 75 feet to a drum where they make a 90-degree turn and continue for 25 more feet. They stop in a marked box and drop to at least one knee and pull the hose until the 50-foot mark crosses a finish line.
3. Carrying power tools
The firefighter takes two saws from an apparatus cabinet one at a time, places them on the ground, then picks them both up (one per hand), carries them 75 feet to a pre-positioned drum and returns to the start point.
4. Raising a ladder
The firefighter raises an extension ground ladder to the side of a structure and extends the ladder's fly section to a roof or window using the ladder halyard.
5. Forcing a locked door or breaching a wall
The firefighter uses a sledgehammer to hit a measuring device in a target zone until it activates the buzzer while keeping their feet in a marked box at all times.
6. Crawling through a maze
The firefighter crawls through a tunnel maze approximately 3 x 4 x 64 feet with two 90-degree turns and several obstacles. Also, two sections of the tunnel have reduced dimensions.
7. Removing a victim
The firefighter drags a 165-pound mannequin 35 feet by the handles on the shoulder of the harness, completes a 180-degree turn around a drum and drags the mannequin 35 more feet to the finishline.
8. Pulling ceiling
The firefighter takes a pike pole and places the tip of the pole on a 60-pound door in the ceiling. Then they must push the tip three times while remaining in the pre-determined boundary.
The pike pole is then hooked to an 80-pound ceiling apparatus and is pulled five times. A set is composed of three pushes and five pulls and the candidate must complete five sets.
There is a wide variety of cardiovascular training equipment on the market including treadmills, elliptical cross trainers, stationary bikes, rowing machines and stair climbers and steppers.
For a department with limited space or has to make double duty with available space, a folding treadmill is a good option.
Elliptical machines have grown in popularity in recent years and provide more of a total-body training experience with multiple programs including cross-training programs.
In stationary bicycles, you have a choice between upright and recumbent models. A recumbent stationary bike tends to put less strain on the lower back, a consideration particularly if personnel will be using the equipment for rehabilitation from back injuries.
Strength and endurance
There are many options for developing muscle strength and endurance. Standard barbell, dumbbell and squat rack options can be effective, but evidence suggests that improper application — such as use without training in proper techniques — can lead to acute or chronic injuries.
There are many multi-station, cable-based units that are effective and possibly safer to use, especially if an individual is working out solo.
Kettle bells, medicine balls, Bosa or Swiss balls and web-based (nylon webbing) systems provide more movement options with moderate resistance. Education and training in the proper use ultimately is the key ingredient to long-term success regardless of your choices.
Kettle bells are durable cast iron balls with a handle that can be used in a variety of exercises to develop total body strength, power and endurance. Firefighters can work their bodies across a wide range of angles to increase their flexibility.
The off-centered weight of kettle bells increases the demand placed on core stabilization and agility; they can be used for squats, throws, cleans, jerks, snatches, rotational swings and more.
How about sandbags? Who knew they were good for more than holding back floodwaters? Sandbags are great strength and endurance training aides because they more closely resemble the types of weight that firefighters have to lift, drag and carry.
You can make them yourself or buy commercial-grade sandbags that feature closure systems with inner and outer shells that have zippers and snaps to ensure filler bags are secure. Individual filler bags provide an easy and clean way to adjust the weight; handle options allow for mixing up grips on the bag during a workout.