This page highlights how an FP&S R&D grant was used to research the best cool down techniques after firefighting by Dr. Dave Hostler, Associate Professor of Emergency Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh, and his research team. The content is useful for those in the fire service seeking information about to how to improve the safety and health of firefighters.
Fuel2Fight Study Motivates Departments to Become Healthier
In order to be effective and respond quickly to emergencies, firefighters must maintain a high level of physical fitness and health. Despite previous research stating that firefighters have a higher risk for being overweight and obese, scientists at the Center for Fire, Rescue & EMS Health Research discovered that no proper data existed on the nutritional environment within the fire service. Therefore, the study was funded by a 2009 FP&S Grant awarded to the Center for Fire, Rescue & EMS Health Research with collaborators from the University of Texas, Houston. The Fuel2Fight research project focused on firefighter nutritional health in order to effectively implement individual nutritional intervention programs.
“We had a lot of fire service personnel asking for more evidence [to prove] that the investment in wellness programs was worth it so they could justify them when it came to budget time,” said Sara Jahnke, Director & Principal Investigator. “We designed the study to look at nutritional intake while staff was on duty and off duty. Only half our departments had implemented the Wellness Fitness Initiative.”
The Fuel2Fight study included collecting data from 20 fire departments, and subsequently 1,035 participants, across the country on two different dates, nine months apart. Jahnke and her colleagues were able to look at the differences between departments and found that those that had implemented wellness and fitness programs were significantly healthier than those that had not.
“We looked at a number of health parameters including body composition and fitness, as well as health behaviors and job satisfaction,” said Jahnke. “Those at departments that had implemented wellness programs were almost half as likely to be obese compared to those departments that hadn't.” Jahnke and her team also found that wellness department firefighters had higher estimated VO2max (a fitness measure that quantifies the maximum rate of oxygen consumption during exercise) than standard departments. They also were less likely to smoke and had higher job satisfaction.While the findings of the study affected mostly policy changes, additional medical and nutritional changes were made to firefighters as well.
“We learned a good deal about firefighters’ health and trends,” said Jahnke, who mentioned that results are being published in peer-reviewed literature. “As an example, we published a paper about how few physicians intervene on weight issues with their overweight and obese firefighters.” Findings highlighted in the media are now being used to encourage physicians to become more active in addressing obesity with their fire service patients. In addition, several participants lost large amounts of weight between assessment dates, stating it was a result of being in the study.
Several departments used the results of the Fuel2Fight study as motivation to assess or implement new wellness and fitness programs among their personnel. The Broward County Fire Department in Florida found that a large portion of their staff was significantly unhealthy. It was discovered that 35 percent of their staff had moderate to high cholesterol and blood pressure. In addition, 81 percent of staff was found to have moderate to high BMI (Body Mass Index), a measure of body fat based on an individual’s height and weight. The Broward County Fire Department used these results to implement their new OWL (Obesity Weight Loss) campaign, and commissioned a white paper to promote the program.
“The FEMA-funded Fuel2Fight study served as the impetus for our department to create a division of health and wellness, and embark upon implementing comprehensive programs designed to improve the overall health, wellness, and safety of our firefighters,” said Todd J. Leduc, Division Chief of Health & Safety and Secretary of the International Association of Fire Chief’s Safety, Healthy and Survival Section.
According to Jahnke, nearly half the firefighters studied made changes to their diet and exercise routines to improve their body fat percentage, blood pressure, and other health measures. When looking at the differences between the departments, it was found that those that had implemented the program were significantly healthier than those that had not.
“Our program has been recognized nationally as a best practice in the fire service and funding for the Fuel2Fight Grant started us on our health and wellness journey,” said Leduc.