This page highlights how an AFG grant budgeted medical exams and Wellness & Fitness activites at the Milwaukee Fire Department.This page is intended for fire departments and nonaffiliated Emergency Medical Service organizations (EMS).
AFG Grant Jumpstarts Medical Exams in Milwaukee
Due to drastic cuts in state funding, the Milwaukee Fire Department was experiencing a severe fiscal crisis in 2012. This department had also lost over 200 positions in the past 10 years. Due to serious budget constraints, the department successfully applied for a 2012 AFG Grant for Wellness & Fitness activities. $353,957 was assigned for advanced medical screenings, which were so successful that the city of Milwaukee incorporated them into their annual budget. Additionally, $500 in excess founds was used for the Milwaukee Fire Department (MFD) to purchase updated physical fitness equipment.
“We started a physical aspect, a medical exam, for our department,” said Daniel Berendt, MFD’s Assistant Chief of EMS, Training and Education. “That led to everyone being given blood drawls and physicals that help with hearing, lung capacity, EKGs, and blood tests.”
“The majority of our firefighters cannot go to their primary care physician and get this physical,” said Jason Mims, MFD’s Health and Safety Officer. “It’s not covered under their health insurance because it’s considered an occupational exam.”
Before receiving the grant, only 63% of their firefighters were noted as having a personal care physician, putting 37% at risk. After receiving the grant money in 2013 for the screenings, 30 firefighters were noted as having found a primary care physician after working with the physicians through the MFD. Another 38 firefighters found a doctor in 2014.
Because of these advanced medical screenings, 4 cases of heart disease and 2 cases of cancer were detected in 2013. In 2014, the department was able to identify 3 cases of cancer, 1 case of heart disease, 4 muscular skeletal injuries and 1 detached retina.
“Through these screenings we can identify physical problems that don’t turn into bigger health problems and more expensive problems,” said Berendt. “You have more physically fit firefighters that can deliver service in a better way, whether it’s emergency services or EMS. They are better for public as a whole.”
In addition, excess funds helped the department secure three treadmills and update 15-year-old physical fitness equipment. According to Mims, they were able to build tactical fitness areas that focus on unilateral and bilateral options, body movement, and balance and coordination, including a training rack with resistance bands and TRX bands.
“Every firehouse now has a stocked set of standard workout equipment, which has been helpful,” said Berendt. “This includes training videos for specific movements in firefighting.” These videos show how to use the equipment in a way that will complement repetitive firefighting exercises, like carrying a hose, so that firefighters are not injured when in action.
Because of the success of the comprehensive screenings, “we were able to go to the policymakers of the city and show them the program,” said Berendt. “Because of that, they were able to allocate money for physicals every year.”
Mims noted that since funding is now allocated in the city budget, they are no longer in need of funding and that this comprehensive program has reduced injuries by 53% and saved $1.4 million in backfill spending.
“This is a joint-labor management program,” he said. “We couldn’t have done it without the AFG Grant, Local 215, and local people in Milwaukee to provide a quality healthy program.”