The domain of Fire Service Warrior Fitness offers programing for the occupational athlete who wants to maximize his or her capacity to thrive on the fireground.
Christopher Bauchle is a career firefighter with the Indianapolis Int’l Airport Fire Department and works part-time for the city of Greenwood, IN. Bauchle’s fire service career began in 2006 as an Air Force firefighter. He currently holds a Bachelor’s degree in Public Safety Management and is Georgia Smoke Diver #854 and Indiana Smoke Diver #17.
The Three Dimensions of Physical Training
By: Christopher Bauchle
I believe there are three dimensions to physical training. Most of the general population is interested in the first—looking good and feeling good. The second dimension, training for strength and ability, requires a bit more commitment. I believe anyone who wears a badge on his or her chest has an obligation to this commitment. When we raise our right hand and swear to “protect and serve,” we make a solemn promise to do more than show up when the tones drop. We make a promise to be prepared to function at a capacity that seems superhero-esk to many. Surviving the CPAT or your department’s annual physical exam does not fulfill this obligation.
(Photo cred: Photography by Judith Glick-Smith)
In the fire service, we like to toss around the term Occupational Athlete. But what does that really mean? If a football player fails to prepare for a season, he risks only losing games, play time, and maybe sponsorships. How much more significant are the stakes if we fail to prepare? Firefighting is a contact sport. Regardless if you get to “play” once a year or every other shift, the obligation we have to each other, our families, and the citizens who depend on us remains the same. The “everyone gets to play, everyone gets a trophy” culture in the fire service is dangerous when it comes to maintaining an acceptable level of physical ability. Either you’ll have the endurance to pull a civilian or brother firefighter out of a bad situation or you won’t; either you’ll be able to conserve your air and complete the operation or you won’t. Imagine the ideal crew of firefighters you would want coming for you if you were to speak what could be your last words calling a mayday tonight. Do you have the abilities and the knowledge of the firefighters you envisioned? We have to be honest with ourselves and keep each other accountable.
*Author steps off soapbox.
Now, to the third dimension of physical training and my reason for writing: Training for mental toughness. In Carl von Clausewitz’s 1832 work, On War, he writes, “War is the realm of physical exertion and suffering. These will destroy us unless we can make ourselves indifferent to them…” Clausewitz is talking about stress inoculation.
During my undergrad, I conducted a research study analyzing the cumulative impact of chronic stress among firefighters. It can be found in the National Fire Academy’s Learning Resource Center here. One of the study’s key findings is that we perceive the stress of firefighting operations to be considerably less than the level of stress our endocrine systems prove we are under. The following excerpt illustrates an example of this found between rookie and veteran firefighters.
To gain a better understanding of the stressors faced on the fire ground, researchers measured cortisol levels in the saliva of firefighters after completing a physically demanding stair-climb test and after real-world incidents: “Cortisol is a steroid hormone produced by the adrenal glands that helps regulate blood pressure and cardiovascular function, as well as the body’s use of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. Cortisol secretion increases with any stress to the body—either psychological or physical, such as an injury, illness, or exposure to extreme conditions” (Jaquish 5). After the stair climbing, all firefighter’s cortisol levels were elevated. However, after the actual incidents, the cortisol levels of the rookies were far higher than those of most of the experienced firefighters. These findings illustrate the variability of the emotional dimension of psychological stress experienced by firefighters compared to physical stress on the fire ground.
(Photo cred: Eight31 Photography)
In nearly every other industry, physical and emotional constraints can be built around the worker. We as firefighters, however, must be able to adapt to the constraints dictated by the emergency. The way we do this is by reducing changeable stressors and preparing for those that are an innate part of our profession. This is where stress inoculation comes into play. By making a conscious effort to involve the mental game into our training, we can reduce the negative impacts of stress by making the physical and psychological effects “charted territory.” George Patton is quoted as saying, “The body is never tired if the mind is not tired.” Below are a couple suggestions for strengthening your mind during physical training.
1. During gear workouts, commit to not removing your mask (or any other piece of equipment) until you’ve cooled down. The first thing everyone wants to do is rip off their mask and drop their air pack after a tough gear drill. Leave it on until you don’t care to take it off.
2. Avoid the comfort characteristics of your workouts. For instance, train without music. It’s amazing how much more daunting a workout can become when it’s just you and your thoughts. Commit to not sitting, leaning, or taking a knee during your workouts. Don’t take water breaks (this DOES NOT understate the importance of hydrating the evening before, prior to, and directly after your workouts). The sips we take between sets are soothing, but do very little to hydrate us during actual training.
3. Swim laps. Commit to breathing every other stroke for a distance that is challenging, yet attainable. Everyone has an inherent fear of not being able to breathe. Incorporating this into your training will test your mind and do wonders for your air consumption and cardio.
I’d like to close with saying that I write this more for myself than for anyone. My thoughts here do not stem from an “I train harder than you” attitude. I fight complacency and laziness every single day. These thoughts stem only from confronting the reality that lives truly depend on us being able to operate at a high capacity. After a call, I never want to justify in my mind that everything that could have been done was done, but know in my heart that I didn’t train like I should have or failed to hold the physical ability and mental fortitude that I committed to maintain. If, and when, we’re placed in a situation like this, it’s pass or fail. Either we’ll possess the strength of mind and body necessary or we won’t. So, my friends, train uncomfortably.
Simulated disorder postulates perfect discipline; simulated fear postulates courage, simulated weakness postulates strength – The Art of War
Bauchle, Christopher B. The Potential Cumulative Impact of Chronic Stress Among Firefighters. U.S. Fire Administration Library, 29 Dec. 2011. Web.
Clausewitz, Carl Von. On War. Berlin: Dümmlers Verlag: Vom Kriege, 1832.
Sun Tzu. The Art of War. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 2002.