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Study Says Physical Guidelines Necessary for Training

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  • Study Says Physical Guidelines Necessary for Training

    Moral of the story is, if you're not physically fit, you shouldn't be in this line of work, be it career or volunteer.

    Training Guidelines Established after Maryland Study
    Insructors must decide the fitness of training participants

    Firehouse.com News

    Firefighters who can't pass a step test and demonstrate adequate aerobic capacity should not be allowed to participate in training.

    Maryland Fire and Rescue Institute Director Steven T. Edwards also said instructors hold the key to reducing the number of firefighters killed and injured during training exercises.

    Edwards said an extensive research study conducted by the Center for Firefighter Safety Research and Development at the University of Maryland showed the stress involved during various evolutions.

    "There was no real data out there. No one had monitored a firefighter's body while they were engaged in actual firefighting activities," he said.

    Heart attacks are the leading cause of training-related deaths, and annually 14 firefighters die during drills. Last year, statistics show 7,100 were hurt. And, Edwards said that number is probably higher because all the injuries were probably not reported.

    "We lose more people in training activities than the military or law enforcement. We have to do a better job of creating a safer environment and protecting our people..."

    Since the Maryland study, fire training academies across the country have received health and safety guidelines. "We've received a lot of positive comments," Edwards said, adding that instructors need to make sure that their students are physically fit to participate.

    A copy of the document is available on MFRI's website.

    While it's the department's responsibility to send people fit for drills, not all require annual physicals. That's why Edwards said the Harvard Step Test is so important. It gauges the body's aerobic capacity.

    He said the instructors must control who is allowed to take part in firefighter training. It's the only way to turn the tide on deaths and injuries.

    The research project that involved a physiological analysis of firefighters engaged in various tests was funded through a $750,000 FIRE Act grant. "We were fortunate to get this research grant, one of the first ones awarded."

    The new center is comprised of four departments at the University of Maryland -- MFRI, Fire Protection Engineering Department, Small Smart System Center, and Department of Kinesiology.

    Once the methodology was established, 200 firefighters agreed to participate in the study at MFRI. They had to have Firefighter II certification, and at least three years' experience. The study group included men and women, some were volunteers, others career.

    Researchers teamed up with a private partner, VivoMetrics Government Services (VGS) which provided a LifeShirt that monitored the firefighters' bodies while they were in the engaged in the various exercises. "We monitored every heart beat and every breath while they were here."

    Each participant also swallowed a pill to obtain a core body temperature as it passed through the body. A urine sample then determined if they were sufficiently hydrated.

    Edwards said it was important to see just how the body reacts during the stresses of firefighting. The study participants had to rescue a dummy, stand outside in full turnout gear as part of a RIT team and were involved in a burn scenario.

    While the firefighters moved through the various phases, researchers monitored their vital signs on a computer. Body temperatures would often continue to rise even after they left the burn room.

    Edwards said the document published after the data was analyzed will hopefully be embraced so the number of training-related deaths and injuries can be reduced.

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