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Ohio firefighters face discipline for lack of exercise

The rule requires firefighters to engage in a fitness regiment eight out of 10 days

By Natalie Trusso Cafarello
The Blade

SYLVANIA TOWNSHIP, Ohio — Sylvania Township officials plan to discipline firefighters who aren't exercising enough on the job.

The township administration and its firefighters union talked for more than year about a physical fitness policy, but when no agreement was reached and some department employees had low participation in exercising, the township imposed a policy that requires its firefighters to undertake a fitness regimen for one hour on at least eight of every 10 working days.

The township fire department provides services for Sylvania and the township and has 57 firefighters and paramedics.

The policy prompted the union to file a grievance, which is in its early stages of resolution.

"One of the things that has been determined is the physical health and well being of firefighters is something everyone is concerned about," fire Chief Jeffrey Kowalski said. "If they have to go into a burning building and carry someone out, if they have to perform the Jaws of Life at a car accident, it is important they are fit. We want to ensure they can do the strenuous tasks during rescue."

Although township administration officials said part of enforcing the policy is taking disciplinary action, Mr. Kowalski said department officers have not written up anyone because the department wants to increase participation through conversation with the individuals first. He said there has been increased participation in the last month; however, the department's goal is uniform participation.

The department does not require the firefighters to take an annual physical fitness test as some departments do. Deputy Chief Mike Ramm said physical fitness tests are required when firefighters apply for certifications, such as for hazardous materials.

Such an exercising requirement is not imposed by the Toledo Fire and Rescue Department, said Deputy Chief Rick Syroka. The topic does come up at union contract negotiations but defining "healthy living" is left up to the employee, he said.

The fitness of firefighters is a concern because each year more than 100 firefighters in the United States die from heart attack or stroke. The U.S. Fire Administration estimates that more than 700,000 firefighters work for departments with no program to maintain basic health.

Susan Wood, assistant administrator for Sylvania Township, said that low participation in physical fitness has been discussed with the union officials for about two years.

Every quarter, the administration reviews participation levels and discusses the lack of physical training by some firefighters with fire Lt. Chris Nye, president of the International Association of Firefighters Local 2243 which represents the township firefighters.

Ms. Wood said that all firefighters use the fitness equipment installed at the four fire stations, but participation is low for some employees, as little as eight to 12 hours per quarter. The administration wants one hour of physical training for 80 percent of the days on duty. Lieutenants at each station are responsible for managing the day's educational and other trainings, which are done when time permits outside of fire and emergency runs. The township does not specify what type of physical fitness is to be done.

She said the administration warned Lieutenant Nye in May that, if participation did not increase, discipline would begin.

The disciplinary process begins with a verbal warning, but can escalate to a suspension without pay or even termination.

The union filed a grievance over the matter last month. Lieutenant Nye declined to comment on the grievance or policy. The grievance states that the "employer" violated the union contract by implementing a participation rate, a "substantial change in the contract."

It says the contract specifies participation in the wellness program as a "goal of one hour of time per shift [24 hours]" and that participation in physical training is as the "day will allow."

Trustee Chairman John Jennewine said 80 percent is the target rate because the township understands that a firefighter's schedule is irregular. He said that 100 percent would not necessarily be attainable.

"If you are out fighting a fire in 90 degree heat, you are not going to come back and want to get on the treadmill for an hour," he said.

Asked whether some of the firefighters are out of shape, Mr. Jennewine declined to comment. He said the township is dedicated to the employees' overall well being.

The fire department has added $66,000 worth of fitness equipment at its stations since 2005, mostly paid for with a federal grant.

The department also has a wellness program, which includes three peer fitness trainers who can help employees with a training regimen. It paid $2,000 apiece for the employees to receive that certification, Ms. Wood said.

Fire Chief Kowalski has denied the grievance as has the township board of trustees. Ms. Wood said the administration is in talks with Lieutenant Nye to resolve the complaint. If the parties do not come to an agreement, an arbitrator will be brought in.

Asked about whether she is concerned about the physical fitness of the firefighters who are responsible for fighting blazes in the city of Sylvania, City Councilman Mary Westphal, chairman of the council's safety committee, declined comment. She said the city has nothing to do with running the fire department.


(c)2014 The Blade (Toledo, Ohio)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service
Distributed by MCT Information Services

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Larry Zipper Larry Zipper Sunday, July 13, 2014 9:13:58 AM It's incredibly shortsighted of the unions to to completely embrace keeping its members physically fit. That and very two faced since they are the first ones to jump in and blame departments when a firefighter goes down due to a medical reason either during their career or after. Due to the on again, off again, nature of the high physical and stress nature of the job keeping fit is critical to surviving. Maintaining fitness should be just a big a part of the an individual firefighters regimen as studying for the next certification or promotion.
Tommy Gibbs Tommy Gibbs Monday, July 14, 2014 3:44:12 AM Fellow iaff member and I love it actually should be required to do an hour a shift
Jack Reall Jack Reall Monday, July 14, 2014 5:13:08 AM The largest department in the state has a successful program. They learned through experience that a punitive fitness program would not work and changed to an incentive based program. Now FFs are given incentive pay for exceeding physical fitness standards.
Josh Cook Josh Cook Monday, July 14, 2014 5:55:11 AM A
Rodney Gragg Rodney Gragg Monday, July 14, 2014 6:50:40 AM I know a department begging for a fitness program but the city will not help them out.
Fitness for Fireground Operations Fitness for Fireground Operations Monday, July 14, 2014 12:37:53 PM Unfortunate situation..."If you are out fighting a fire in 90 degree heat, you are not going to come back and want to get on the treadmill for an hour," ... Not an effective or relevant argument. If you are in shape, a 30 minute walk on the treadmill and 30 minutes of stretching is a great cool down from a hard working, well earned day. Ultimately, we are trying to keep our members alive, that's all.
Monday, July 14, 2014 12:40:29 PM Sylvania Township officials plan to discipline firefighters who aren't exercising enough on the job... City Councilman Mary Westphal, chairman of the council's safety committee, declined comment. She said the city has nothing to do with running the fire department. Okay, which is it? If they have nothing to do with running the department, how can they discipline the firefighters? Should that not fall to the department itself to do. I also question whether this exercise requirement applies to the Chief Officers as well.
Daren Gillespie Daren Gillespie Monday, July 14, 2014 12:40:49 PM I agree that physical fitness is paramount. However, I VEHEMENTLY disagree with mandatory "on duty" PT programs. Firefighters are expected to be ready to respond and perform at a moments notice. How effective is a firefighter, who just finished working out on duty going to be, as opposed to a man who did his workout the day prior, on his day off, and is well rested?? The push for more SOG's and rules is rapidly eliminating good old fashioned common sense.
John Drady John Drady Monday, July 14, 2014 1:58:08 PM Well said. For those of us who do work hard at staying fit, how secure and safe do you feel when your backup may not have the capability of getting themselves out of trouble never mind helping you if you need it? Does their risk of getting in trouble then put you and everyone else at higher risk?
Pat Hisel Pat Hisel Monday, July 14, 2014 2:42:08 PM It's not shortsighted, I'm not sure what their call volume is, but, when you are on a department that's running most of the 24 hours, being told that you must work out for an hour each duty day, is easily unattainable. Simply requiring personnel to be in shape, or pass certain physical fitness tests, would be the smarter way to go. Allowing personnel to work out on duty, is fantastic, and should be encouraged, but mandatory, is not always a great idea.
Billy MacLeod Billy MacLeod Monday, July 14, 2014 4:16:54 PM Well, if I read the article correctly, it's the township threatening discipline. Ms. Westphal works for the City. Two different governmental agencies.
Larry Zipper Larry Zipper Monday, July 14, 2014 5:31:47 PM Pat Hisel I don't think there is a way to mandate it on duty. And you don't need to mandate what they do on their own time. But to mandate a certain level of fitness is not unreasonable and it is their responsible to attain it. The military reserve works that way. No way is there usually time each time the reservists meet to do any physical training, but you are still expected to pass the annual fitness test. It's a job where being as fit as possible can save your life. Not even just for the level of physical activity required, but coping with the nearly complete lack of activity when not a call, to a high level of activity in a short period of time is incredibly stressful on the body even when in shape. Being out of shape and doing this can be deadly.
Pat Hisel Pat Hisel Monday, July 14, 2014 5:58:25 PM I completely agree! I'm one of the fitness guy on our department, I come in an hour and a half before duty, and do my workouts, and when I get off in the morning. There's nothing worse than an out of shape firefighter. We are really occupational athletes, when you think about it. The issue in this department is they want to mandate them to workout, at least an hour, while on duty, that I don't agree with the mandating part, but I do feel that a certain level of fitness should be mandated, and the members need to meet, at least a minimum.
Mike Angelo Mike Angelo Monday, July 14, 2014 6:17:37 PM Just work out for an hour and quit whining, sedentary firefighters are a detriment to their brothers and sisters as well as the citizens they serve. I have worked out and been called to duty many times in my career, and thanks to our exemplary fitness program I am ready for anything the day throws at me, including an hour in the gym.
Dustin Burns Dustin Burns Tuesday, July 15, 2014 7:25:43 AM I work for a small department and we only have 4 guys on duty at a time and I understand both sides here. With that being said our department has a mandated 1 hour of fitness every morning. This doesn't mean you have to go in and pump out 240lbs on the bench. Even walking on a treadmill at small pace is better than sitting in the recliner for that hour. Plus as a new firefighter I want to know that if I was down in a fire that someone would be able to come and get me. I think this is a huge part of the fire service and we are doing a disservice to out community if we aren't physically fit to help them.
Brandi Manuppella Brandi Manuppella Wednesday, July 16, 2014 9:21:45 AM I have found that policies are just that, words on paper. Each person has to "buy in" to the fitness program. It is a changing environment we work in at the fire dept. Our old customary ways of drinking coffee all day and smoking cigarettes while playing peaknuckle (sp?) are gone. Our new trends are generations of eating better, staying healthy and fit and living longer after we retire. This is the ultimate goal. Embrace it.
Wednesday, July 16, 2014 10:24:23 AM For those opposed to mandatory PT on shift, take a look in NFPA 1500. I believe that is where the PT requirement is listed. And, any paid department that doesn't have some type of medical physical exam component in place is just asking for trouble in the long run. I would imagine they had to pass some sort of medical exam to even be hired. I know I did, and have a mandated PT program as well. The only ones that complained were the guys that were within single-digit years of retirement. They were given the option of retiring early or getting on board......nobody left, and most of them liked it once they got into it.
Wednesday, July 16, 2014 10:26:19 AM Larry Zipper Yes, it can be mandated since its part of NFPA. I think it is in NFPA 1500.
Dave Adams Dave Adams Thursday, July 17, 2014 8:07:17 PM They tried the same thing in the Navy. I was in for 20 years. I ACTUALLY did, MAYBE 5 annual PTs. When it came to their "3 times a week" run, I always had something more important to accomplish "to better the command."
Marjorie Hoofard Cummings Marjorie Hoofard Cummings Sunday, July 20, 2014 7:59:47 AM Happy Birthday, Mike! Hope your day is filled with lovely things! <3

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