Firefighters must be in good shape to do their job well as first responders. Being physically fit helps them to be strong and allows them to do their tasks quickly and efficiently. Firefighters need to be in good shape to keep themselves and others safe while on the job.

Despite the importance of being physically fit for firefighters, a study has found that many of them are either overweight or obese. This article will talk about why it’s important for firefighters to be physically fit and how they stay in shape to do their job well.

firefighter performs pull-ups

Keeping fit: U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Brandon Stout performs pull-ups at the fire station on Ellsworth Air Force Base, South Dakota.

Physical fitness and firefighting

Firefighting is a physically demanding job that requires a high level of cardiovascular endurance, muscular endurance, and overall physical fitness. That is why physical fitness plays an important factor in the ability of firefighters to perform their duties effectively and safely.

Endurance training

Cardiovascular endurance, also known as aerobic fitness, is the ability of the heart and lungs to deliver oxygen to the body during prolonged physical activity. High levels of cardiovascular endurance can help firefighters perform these tasks without becoming overly fatigued.

Muscular endurance is the ability of the muscles to perform repetitive tasks over an extended period of time. Good muscular endurance can help firefighters perform these tasks without experiencing muscle fatigue.

There are many tasks that require physical fitness in the fire service. These include:

  • Lifting and carrying heavy objects such as hoses, ladders, and tools
  • Climbing stairs and ladders while wearing heavy protective gear, such as self-contained breathing apparatus
  • Performing rescue operations, including lifting and carrying people or animals to safety
  • Extinguishing fires, which may involve crawling through tight spaces or working in low visibility conditions
  • Providing first aid and medical assistance to people in need

Many fire departments have physical requirements for recruits to ensure that firefighters are physically fit enough to perform these tasks. To make sure that new firefighters are ready for the job, they have to pass certain fitness tests. Some fire departments have special training programs and resources to help firefighters stay in good shape.

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) have created a set of guidelines called NFPA 1582 that helps fire departments take care of the health of their firefighters. This guideline includes ensuring firefighters are healthy enough for the job and keeping track of their health while working.

One of the key components outlined in NFPA 1582 is the body fat percentage. Firefighters must maintain a certain body fat level to ensure they are physically fit enough to perform their duties. The specific body fat percentage requirements may vary depending on the individual fire department. firefighters

Overall, the goal of the requirements outlined in NFPA 1582 is to ensure that firefighters have the physical abilities that are enough to have a good job performance.

Candidate Physical Ability Test

The candidate physical ability test (CPAT) is a standard assessment used by many fire departments to determine the physical fitness of potential candidates. The fitness test simulates the physical demands of the firefighting job and consists of a series of eight different stations that test different aspects of physical fitness.

Watch the “Firefighter CPAT” video to gain an understanding of the requirements and challenges of the Firefighter Candidate Physical Ability Test (CPAT).

The CPAT typically includes the following stations:

  1. Stair climb: This involves climbing stairs while carrying a simulated hose pack.
  2. Hose drag: Candidates must drag a hose across a set distance and then roll it up again. This task requires a high level of grip strength.
  3. Equipment carry: This involves moving a simulated tool or equipment at a set distance. The ability to lift heavy weights is an important physical attribute for firefighters, enabling them to carry and operate heavy equipment and tools effectively.
  4. Ladder raise and extension: Candidates must raise and extend a ladder in this station.
  5. Forced entry: Candidates must use a simulated tool to break down a door or wall.
  6. Search: This involves crawling through a simulated smoke-filled room while searching for a simulated victim.
  7. Rescue: Candidates must carry a simulated victim a set distance.
  8. Ceiling breach and pull: This involves using a simulated tool to breach a ceiling and then pulling down a simulated victim.

Prevalence of obesity in the Fire Service

A study conducted in the United States found that approximately 37% of career firefighters were classified as obese, while nearly 60% of volunteer firefighters were obese. These rates are significantly higher than the national average for obesity in the general population, which is around 40%.

There are several possible reasons for this trend of obesity in the fire service. One possible reason is the nature of shift work, which can disrupt regular sleep patterns and lead to unhealthy eating habits.

Firefighters may face challenges finding healthy food options while on shift, as they may rely on vending machines or fast food options for meals.

Firefighters need to know about the dangers of being overweight and how to stay fit. By caring for their bodies, firefighters can be healthier and better able to help others.

Do firefighters need to be muscular?

Firefighters don’t need to be muscular, although having muscular strength can certainly be beneficial for the job’s demands.

Firefighters must carry heavy things, climb ladders, and do other demanding physical work. However, muscular power is not the only thing that is important for firefighters. They must also handle challenging situations, work well with others, and make fast decisions in emergencies.

Firefighters going up a hill for a field exercise

Running to the rescue: Firefighters from the Miramar Fire Department race up a hill to extinguish a simulated fire during a field exercise, as part of a week-long safety course to prepare for wildfires.

The benefits of exercise for firefighters:

Improves physical performance

Exercise can help firefighters improve their physical performance by increasing their strength, endurance, and overall fitness levels. Firefighter fitness can make them better equipped to handle the job’s physical demands, such as carrying heavy equipment, climbing ladders, and lifting and carrying people.

Prevents obesity and other health issues

Firefighters are at an increased risk of developing health issues such as heart disease and diabetes due to the physical demands of the job and the often unhealthy eating habits that can result from shift work. Regular exercise can help prevent these issues by promoting a healthy weight and improving overall health.

Reduces stress and improves mental health

Exercise can reduce stress and improve mood, which can be especially beneficial for firefighters who may experience high levels of stress and anxiety due to the nature of their work.

Improves cardiovascular fitness

Firefighters need healthy cardiovascular systems to work for long periods without getting tired. Exercise can help improve cardiovascular fitness by strengthening the heart and increasing the body’s ability to deliver oxygen and nutrients to the muscles.

Increases safety on the job

By maintaining a high level of physical fitness, firefighters can improve their overall safety, which can help reduce the risk of injury.

How municipal departments can support the physical fitness of their firefighters

There are several ways that municipal departments can support the physical fitness of their firefighters, including the following:

  • Implementing physical fitness standards
    Many fire departments have physical fitness standards that firefighters must meet in order to be hired and continue working for the department.
  • Providing fitness facilities and equipment
    Providing fitness facilities and equipment: Many fire departments have fitness facilities and equipment available for firefighters. They have weight rooms, cardio equipment, and other exercise equipment.
  • Encouraging healthy eating habits
    Poor eating habits can contribute to various health issues, including obesity and heart disease. Municipal fire departments can encourage firefighters to adopt healthy eating habits by providing healthy meal options at the fire station and promoting nutrition education programs.
  • Offering fitness and wellness programs
    Many fire departments provide fitness and wellness programs for their firefighters, such as exercise classes, yoga or meditation sessions, and wellness workshops. These programs can help firefighters maintain a high level of physical fitness and improve their overall well-being. 

Physical fitness is essential for firefighters to perform their duties and stay safe on the job effectively. Municipal fire departments can support the physical fitness efforts of their firefighters by implementing standards, providing fitness resources, encouraging healthy eating habits, and offering fitness programs.