Heart Health: Workouts at work



Editor's note: After three top 10 finishes in the Firefighter Combat Challenge, Michael Medeiros is well placed to speak about fitness. With Wednesday's spotlight in National Firefighter Health Week falling on heart health, the wellness coordinator for Horry County (N.C.) Fire Rescue and National Endurance Sports Trainers Association certified trainer says departments need to allow their members to physically train on duty to improve fitness levels.

By Firefighter-EMT Michael Medeiros
Wellness coordinator
Horry County (S.C) Fire Rescue

Photo courtesy of Michael Medeiros
Michael Medeiros takes part in the South Carolina Annual Firefighter Competition in June.

The amount of time firefighters spend fighting fire is considerably lower than the time spent at the fire station. The intense impact that is placed on the heart muscle when the tones go off can be equal to a 20-minute workout.

While on duty, most firefighters get little to no exercise, which in turn places them at a larger risk for cardiac problems. While firefighters have to be prepared for any circumstance, many are unfortunately not ready for the adrenaline dump that occurs to the system. The outcome can be anything from injury and illness to medical leave or even death.

An emphasis must be placed on all firefighters to maintain an above level of fitness. Since firefighting is one of the toughest jobs in the world and heart attacks are the leading cause of death on the job, one would think that all firefighters would be in the best of shape. But, as we all know, that's sadly not the case.

The only way to achieve the required level of health is through wellness and fitness programs. In order to do this, it's vital that fire departments educate their members on fitness, mental wellness and dietary intake. Without this education and mandatory fitness policies, there won't be a reduction in cardiac disease and illness.

On-duty programs
Fire departments must begin the process by allowing their members to physically train on duty. This can be achieved with little to no investment in equipment. The easiest way to get firefighters up and working out is to implement job-related workouts. Job specific training is done in most academies and can continue on the road. All the tools you need can be found in most firehouses across the nation.

My department  has adopted the JOSET© (Job Oriented Skills Endurance Training) functional training program. This type of training is placed in a circuit program and involves job task movements.

Beginner circuit
Attire for a JOSET beginner circuit should be helmet, gloves, and sweats. It doesn't really matter about the about amount of reps that are carried out — the real workout is the act of doing job skills properly in a continuous motion for the full 20 minutes. You can move through the full course many times or work on a particular skill longer than another. Prior to beginning any type of fitness training, you should take the time to warm-up for about five minutes. You can achieve this with a light jog, rope jumping, jumping jacks, etc.


  • Bunker Drills
  • Striking (vertical or horizontal vent)
  • Hose drag and reset
  • Ladder raise and extension
  • Ladder carry and walk
  • Ceiling breach
  • Victim rescue

Heart Health Tips

To reduce the chances of cardiac problems, the NVFC recommends the following:
  • If you smoke, take steps to quit
  • Schedule annual physicals with your doctor
  • Eat a heart-healthy diet, high in grains, fruit, and vegetables
  • Participate in regular physical activity, such as running, biking, tennis, etc
  • Learn what a healthy weight is for your body, and take steps to reach and maintain that weight

NVFC's Heart Health Resources

This circuit has no start or finish — wherever you start might not be where you end, and the course duration is 20 minutes of continuous movements.

The equipment used includes a 24 ft extension ladder, a 45lb barbell, a 1.75 inch hose, a sledgehammer or axe, a 14 ft ladder, and a Rescue Randy or hose dummy. 

For the drag, you can make a wooden sled to place the weight and connect a small section of hose. Hose drags can be 75-100 ft.

In addition:

  • Rescue drags can be on average 50-100 ft drags, then back.
  • A 5 inch hose role can be utilized for horizontal ventilation simulation.
  • The amount of reps/station will be determined by each person's fatigue factor. I recommend that each member continue the task until their form starts to falter, then move on to the next station.

Following the circuit, all members should take time to stretch. All stretches must be held for 15-20 seconds in duration, avoiding the locking of elbows or knees. Fire departments can repeat this training each shift if on a 24/48, but remember to change it up to avoid boredom by adding in new tasks or doing calisthenics in place of the JOSET.

At the conclusion of the JOSET training session, members need to hydrate themselves with plenty of water. Remember to drink water during exercise as well. Members can also take down post vitals every five minutes and record them. This will give training staff vital information on rehab time and fitness levels.

The profession of firefighting is strenuous. One would think that firefighters would be in better shape than the average person. The possibility of severe health risk due to a lack of exercise should motivate firefighters and fire departments to develop programs that will keep fitness levels at its highest. Remember that you impact not only the people you work with but the people you serve — let the training begin!

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