The hefty goal of this article is to eliminate chronic disease from the fire service – disease caused by unhealthy lifestyle behaviors. The UFF Directives for Firefighter Wellness spare you the details without sparing you the depth. If firefighters adhere to the following 10 directives, we can make the best job in the world a healthier one.
Eliminate grains, sugars, and seed oils
Start by eliminating all the offensive processed food, grains, sugar, and industrial seed oils. Eliminate refined grains, whole grains, bread, pasta, muffins, biscuits, bagels, cereal, baked goods, pancakes, and anything else made from flour. Eliminate sugar, candy, cake, cookies, pastries, milk chocolate bars, high fructose corn syrup, soda, milkshakes, and sweetened coffee drinks. Most importantly, eliminate vegetable/seed oils and trans fats. These include corn oil, soybean oil, canola, sunflower/safflower, margarine, shortening, and anything with “partially hydrogenated” in the ingredients list.
Eat meat, organ meat, fish, fowl, and eggs
Eat the animal products our bodies evolved to thrive on. Eat nose-to-tail animals: beef, lamb, bison, pork, poultry, and eggs. Favor grass-fed and pastured animals, which have better fatty acids and contain more vitamins and minerals. Eat animals from the sea: salmon, sardines, trout, mackerel, crab, shrimp, oysters, mussels, clams. Wild-caught fish are best, though farmed shellfish are usually raised exactly like wild shellfish and thus are fine. Saturday is steak and eggs day, not subs and pizza. Avoid EMS rooms. There’s nothing healthy in there.
Strength train and pull sleds
Lift heavy weight on your second day-off when you are fully recovered. The more lean mass a person has, the longer and better they live. The foundation of your routine should be the big compound lifts: squats, deadlifts, presses (bench and overhead), pull-ups, rows, dips, snatches, power cleans, clean and jerks. These engage multiple muscles while triggering your hormonal response systems. I recommend the tried and true routines such as the 5×5 method or the Conjugate Method from Westside Barbell. These programs can be altered to fit your schedule. Just make sure you’re doing big movements like squats and deadlifts while maintaining extreme intensity and great form. Avoid chronic training patterns where you train for too long, too often. Pull sleds on duty. Load the sled when you get to work. Pull the sled around the firehouse between runs. “We drag hose – so we drag sleds”. Perform Return-Reps. Whenever you ‘return’ to the firehouse from a run or training, perform a movement like push-ups or dips to maximum failure. Return Reps add up quick.
Favor HIIT over steady-state cardio
HIIT training like sprinting in short intense bursts, increases muscle fiber strength, aerobic capacity, muscle mitochondria, insulin sensitivity, and natural growth hormone production. HIIT and sprinting translates better to fighting fire than steady-state cardio like jogging on the treadmill. Perform HIIT and all-out sprints once a week when you’re fully recovered and energized. Find a field or a hill to perform your sprints. Perform dynamic warm-ups, followed by six all-out sprints lasting around 8–10 seconds, fully recovering between each sprint, every 7–10 days.
Avoid excessive endurance training. Chronic mid- and high-level aerobic work will only lead to injury and illness. Steady-state cardio requires large amounts of dietary carbohydrates, decreases efficient fat metabolism, increases cortisol production, systemic inflammation, free radical production, and let’s face it, it’s just not as fun or job-specific.
Get off duty. Get in sauna
Build one or buy one. Just find a way to get a sauna at your firehouse. You should be sitting in the sauna for at least twenty minutes, at least twice a week. Preferably when you get off-duty. We are bound to be overstressed and sleep-deprived on our first day off. This is why I recommend using the sauna for recovery and avoiding hard training. Sauna use elicits a multitude of beneficial health effects, including the reduced risk of sudden cardiac death, cardiovascular-related mortality, coronary heart disease-related death, stroke, hypertension, Alzheimer’s disease, and all-cause mortality (*). The cure for what ails firefighters is at your local butcher or local sauna.
Avoid ‘Recliner-Potato Syndrome’
We have to find ways to counteract the sedentary nature of our jobs and avoid sitting for prolonged periods. Busy departments spend lots of time sitting in apparatus and slow departments spend lots of time in fart-filled recliners. My favorite ways to move more on duty are Return-Reps and Station-Strolls. It isn’t a privilege to sit in the recliners, it’s a cause of obesity. Keep it moving!
Station-Stroll between runs (walk or pull sled around firehouse)
I enjoy long walks around the firehouse. This is how I keep my sanity and prevent glute inactivation and atrophy. When nothing needs done, I walk around the firehouse. The quality of my shifts and lower back pain got a lot better when I started going outside instead of lounging in front of the TV. For something more challenging, pull a sled behind you. Grab a radio and get some fresh air and sunshine.
4-7-8 breathe every time the tones drop
Stress is killing you. Whether you like to admit it or not, loud tones trigger your fight or flight response and put you in a stressed state. Experts recommend simple breathing exercises for both immediate stress relief benefits as well as deep, lasting physiological advantages. Whenever you feel tense, belly breathe through your nose and exhale slowly through your mouth. I recommend performing a 4:7:8 pattern – 4 to inhale, 7 to hold, and 8 to exhale, every time the tones go off. Do this enough and it will become automatic. Combine 4-7-8 breathing with Station-Strolls to beat stress for good.
Sleep 8 hours off-duty
Poor sleep equals poor health. Sleep-deprivation is the number one health concern in the fire service in my humble opinion. If you wear your little sleep as a badge of honor you won’t be wearing it for very long. Moving to a 24/72 hour shift schedule is the iron solution for firefighter sleep-deprivation. Get 8 hours of sleep on your off days to help combat the negative effects of poor sleep on duty. Take a daily nap. Naps can make up for some of the sleep debt that comes with the job. Not only should we allow napping on duty, but we should also encourage it. Reduce blue light exposure after sundown. Blue light from electronics suppresses melatonin and causes the release of stress hormones like cortisol. Download www.justgetflux.com on computers and MDCs and active Night Shift on iOS and macOS to reduce blue light. Although you cannot control or prevent interrupted sleep on-duty, you can make sleep a top priority at home.
Focus on what you control: Your attitude and your actions
The understanding of what is and what is not within our control is one of the most important tenets of philosophy. You can only control your attitude and actions, so focus all your energy on that and accept everything else that is out of your control. Lastly, focus on the process and not the outcome. This will bring you peace of mind throughout your career.
For more information, go to www.primalosophy.com