FIRED UP FOR FITNESS
Climbing a ladder to the second story of a house is no big deal. People do it all the time, to put up the screens, clean the gutters or paint the trim. But wearing protective gear weighing about 60 pounds, and hauling a 35-pound air pack on your back and a heavy hose at your side, turns that same climb into an exceptionally strenuous workout. That, combined with extreme temperatures and noxious smoke, is what firefighters endure at the scene of even a small fire.
To help them stay fit, experts at UMDNJ-School of Osteopathic Medicines (SOM) University Wellness Center, custom-designed a six-week program to enhance balance, coordination, strength, agility and cardiovascular capacity. Those are skills firefighters need, in order to do their job safely and effectively, says Dan Nate, CSCS, an exercise physiologist at SOM who developed the course and taught it.
Before designing the program, Nate talked with several firemen and took in the movie Backdraft. He came up with a regimen of exercises that mimic the movements firefighters use most during a fire. For example, the workout includes tossing medicine balls back and forth while running sideways, to enhance footwork agility. Participants also ran up stairs to imitate climbing a ladder. Nate also incorporated props, such as mannequins and fire hoses.
The program was the brainchild of David Matos, MS, an assistant dean for planning and development at SOM, and a volunteer fireman in Medford Lakes. Matos learned that a new federal requirement was to be instituted in a few months that would require any employee or volunteer who has to wear a self-contained breathing apparatus to meet a certain standard of fitness. He approached Nate, who in turn designed and offered the new program, free of charge, to the 48-member Stratford volunteer fire company. Participants met with Nate once a week for 40 minutes, and had access to the equipment and staff at the Wellness Center three additional days each week. A number of the firefighters joined the Wellness Center at the conclusion of the course and now work out on a regular basis.
Part of our responsibility as a public institution is to help other public institutions, Matos says, noting that most firefighters are volunteers who have full-time jobs and very little time to devote to fitness.
The program will be offered again on an as-needed basis to fire companies in New Jersey.
The magazine of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey