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Fitness a hot topic for Evergreen Fire

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Department stresses conditioning among firefighters and recruits

By Deb Hurley Brobst

Editor’s note: The Canyon Courier is following three people hoping to complete the Evergreen Fire/Rescue academy to get their firefighting certification. This is the second in a series of stories about what it takes to become a firefighter.

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Dragsters can go from a standstill to 100 mph in less than a second.

Firefighters do virtually the same, going from a standstill to adrenalin-pumping, physically demanding, high-stress work to fight a fire.

Statistics show that 45 percent of firefighter fatalities are from heart attacks, and Evergreen Fire/Rescue doesn’t want any of its firefighters to become part of that statistic.

That’s why EFR has spent the last year putting an emphasis on physical fitness for all of its firefighters, and it starts with recruits.

Twenty-one people passed the skills test last week and are being recommended for the department’s nine-month academy, which starts in September.

They dragged a 125-pound dummy, hoisted a hose pack, dragged a charged hose, wielded a sledgehammer, and walked 3 miles in 45 minutes wearing 45-pound vests. Other tests include climbing a ladder to test for fear of heights and crawling while wearing a black-out mask to test for fear of closed-in places.

During the firefighter academy, which runs from September through May, and at weekly trainings, the department’s health and welfare committee plans 10- to 20-minute workouts.

In addition to those weekly trainings, EFR firefighters are more conscious nowadays of the importance of remaining physically active, with both strength and cardio training, said Paige Maslow, who has been a firefighter for 14 years.

“We encourage each other to go to races, walks, hikes,” she said.

Two of the three recruits the Canyon Courier is following — McKenna Cook and Kelsey Swartz — passed the physical fitness portion of the application on June 20. Jake Millenbach took his fitness exam at a different time because he was injured in an unrelated accident.

Helping to motivate firefighters to stay physically fit is the pack test that is required for fighting wildland fires. That’s the 3-miles-in-45-minutes-carrying-45-pounds test.

The health and welfare committee made a commitment — and succeeded — in getting every Evergreen firefighter to pass that pack test, and the recruits will attest that it isn’t easy.

“We are trying to change the culture,” said firefighter Ed Mills, who serves on the committee. “We started with last year’s academy class. We want to make sure our people are physically fit. Through the academy, we are setting a standard.”

Mills runs three times a week and lifts weights because he believes it’s his responsibility to meet the demands of the job.

“I’m one of those serious guys that I’m not going to do this job halfway,” Mills said.

 

More female recruits

The department is excited about its five female recruits because only eight women currently serve on the volunteer force of 85, and five women in one recruiting class is huge for the department.

EFR is ahead of many other departments across the nation in terms of female firefighters.

Of professional or paid firefighters across the country, less than 4 percent are women. While there are few statistics on volunteer departments like EFR, 4 percent seems to be a fairly accurate number.

No matter what someone’s physical size, that person is valuable to the department, EFT Capt. Stacee Martin said.

“Whether you’re 5-foot-1 or 6-foot-2, we all have our purpose and our place in the department, said Martin, who stands 5-foot-1. “We balance each other out. I can get into tiny crawl spaces that larger firefighters can’t. Larger people can do things that I can.”

The department interviewed 35 people interested in becoming firefighters and asked 21 to do the physical fitness test. All 21 passed.

Firefighters interview the candidates, looking for how well they interact with others and whether they will work well with the current firefighters, Duncan said.

 

Physical fitness challenge

The two recruits the Courier has been following passed the challenge June 20, but not without some angst before the tests started.

“I’m a nervous wreck,” Cook said before running a circuit that included the hose carry, hoist and drag, and dragging the dummy. “I’ve been training, so I feel a little stronger.”

Cook has been meeting firefighter Stephanie Duncan at Crossfit in Conifer for early-morning workouts, plus she’s been meeting with Swartz and Millenbach at Wulf Rec Center in the evenings. She was most apprehensive about the hose pull.

Despite the angst, she volunteered to go first, and she was right — the hose pull was the most difficult. The firefighters had not put a pulley at the top of the ladder truck, so the rope was dragging in the loop, making pulling the hose extremely difficult.

After her experience, a pulley was added, making things go more smoothly for the remaining recruits.

“That was amazing,” Mills told her after she finished. “I don’t think I could have (pulled the hose without a pulley). Good job.”

There were a lot of cheers and high-fives all around as each recruit finished the course.

Swartz said she tried not to psych herself out, so she didn’t spend time anticipating what the training course would be like.

Even though she started taking summer classes at the University of Colorado at Boulder, she still managed to get to the gym for workouts five to six times a week.

Then it was time for the pack test at Evergreen Middle School. Martin told the recruits to set their own pace and to remember that speed wasn’t the overriding concern. They just needed to round the track 12 times in 45 minutes.

Several veteran firefighters walked along to help keep the pace. By the fifth lap, the recruits were looking a bit more worn out.

At the end of each lap, Martin called out their times so they could gauge their speed.

“All of what we do is technique,” not just strength, Martin said. “We want them to learn to work smarter, not harder.

“Safety is our No. 1 concern,” she said. “We want everyone to go home after a fire.”

Contact Deb Hurley Brobst at deb@evergreenco.com or 303-350-1041. Check www.CanyonCourier.com for updates.