It’s no secret that firefighters must be physically fit to do their jobs safely and effectively.
To achieve that level of fitness, some departments have provided funding for staff members to be trained as certified personal trainers. The Fond du Lac Fire Department has had a program in place since 2002. The West Bend Fire Department has had in-house trainers for eight years.
While Oshkosh Fire Department doesn’t have staff certified trainers, it’s a program the department is looking into, said Chief Timothy Franz.
The Fond du Lac Fire Department takes its efforts to maintain physical fitness of its staff very seriously, said Assistant Chief Randy Cunzenheim.
“The No. 1 cause of line-of-duty deaths is heart attacks,” he said.
Firefighters and paramedics carry around 68 pounds of gear, so there is a need for those men and women to be able to perform in a physically demanding situation, Cunzenheim said.
In 2002, the department received a grant to obtain fitness equipment, including treadmills, elliptical trainers and weights, Cunzenheim said. The grant also paid for training of three department employees to become peer fitness/personal trainers.
Of those original three, one has left the department; another, Scott Ketelhut is no longer serving in that role, said Fire Chief Peter O’Leary. The third person, Chris Behnke, continues to work as a trainer.
The department now plans to spend about $1,200 training two additional employees: Jack Prall and Laura Ketelhut, Cunzenheim said. Ketelhut and Prall have made a commitment to be available to staff as fitness trainers for five years.
Training staff to serve as personal trainers is the most efficient way to maintain staff physical fitness, he said.
“They know the demands of our job,” Cunzenheim said. “An outside personal trainer is not cost-effective by any means and they wouldn’t have the same perspective as to what our needs are.”
In-house trainers can create job-specific, individualized fitness regimens for each person on the department, Cunzenheim said. There is one trainer for each of the city’s three fire stations.
Fitness across the region
The West Bend Fire Department has four members of the department trained as personal trainers.
West Bend Battalion Chief Chuck Beistle said a prior chief emphasized the importance of firefighter fitness and that idea stuck with the department.
Beistle said the department has had peer fitness/personal trainers on staff for the past eight years. The initial certification of three of its staff members was paid for with a grant. Baseline training equipment was also purchased with the grant.
In order to maintain their certification as peer fitness/personal trainers, those staff members are expected to be re-certified every few years by completing a certain number of classes, which are paid for by the department, Beistle said.
“Our trainers come up with recommendations for each person and have results of where everyone ranks in the department, and they are also able to get the nationwide averages,” Beistle said.
Most of the exercise equipment at each of West Bend’s three fire stations was donated, Beistle said. Staff at each department is required to exercise daily after 2:30 p.m., he said.
“If you don’t work out, you have to be studying or on a call,” Beistle said. “In addition to fitness, exercise is a huge stress reliever and weight lifting is also a way to build camaraderie.”
Oshkosh Chief Timothy Franz said his department does not have peer fitness/personal trainers on staff at this time, but he is interested in having a few staff members trained in the future.
“We’re been looking at working it into our budget,” Franz said.
Franz said the department often brings in volunteer speakers to address health and fitness. The Oshkosh Fire Department has six stations and the fitness equipment at each station includes treadmills and weights. Franz said some of the fitness equipment was purchased by staff rather than through its budget or a grant.
Oshkosh firefighters are not required to exercise at a certain time, but they are expected to maintain a certain level of fitness.
“When we first hire people, we run them through an eight-week recruit class,” Franz said. “We introduce them to a fitness program to focus on areas that they need to work on to do the job properly.”
Firefighters also are able to participate in group activities, such as tire flipping and rope workouts, he said.
“I think (firefighter/paramedic fitness) is very important,” Franz said. “It’s very easy for us at times to justify maintenance budgets for our equipment, but I think it’s important that our guys are physically fit. You can replace equipment, but you can’t replace (the staff).”
Since the Fond du Lac Fire Department began emphasizing physical fitness for each firefighter/paramedic, Cunzenheim said there has been a significant reduction in work-related injuries. This has helped reduce overtime and workman’s compensation claims.
All of these factors have the potential to save the department money, Cunzenheim said.
“We really feel like it’s benefited the entire community,” he said.
“We take pride in being able to provide services to the public and we have an expectation of being able to do it very well,” Cunzenheim said.
Samantha Strong can be reached at (920) 907-7910 or by email at email@example.com.