Fitness: Inconvenient Wellness

July 9, 2009
How do you implement a POST employment fitness program and have the crews adhere to those norms?

Editor's Note: Bryan originally wrote this article for the EMS community. Read it; think about it; consider it as it pertains to the law enforcement community. Interesting answers come to light about fitness across the entire public safety spectrum.

Last year I wrote a series of articles on fitness and wellness within EMS. I did not realize the can of worms that I would open within the emergency services. I have received countless e-mails from all over the globe on this topic, which tells me that the issue is larger than I had perceived. But the common denominator in all the inquiries is - how do you implement a POST employment fitness program and have the crews adhere to those norms?

As we all know a pre-employment fitness test is administered prior to hiring, but the conundrum is simply who designed the tests, are they valid and are they reproducible? I have personally seen many medics who wheeze climbing 2 flights of stairs pass these tests. So I am left wondering if the testing is done simply to appease the insurance company.

Let's face it, the system is flawed, medics are in demand, pay is poor and job stress is high. But, how do we as a profession set a standard and keep it? Fire and Police do not seem to have a problem; they get tested yearly and accept that fact. In EMS just the mere mention of yearly fitness testing incites a riot. Why, what are we so afraid of? Are we truly afraid of being healthy? Do we want to become our patients? Obese, on 7 meds, sedentary... or are most of you already there?

I know, modern EMS, especially in an urban setting is very busy and 911 abuse is rampant. There is little time to eat, sleep and rest let alone exercise. What about your days off? One of the true beauties of EMS is that you have built in days off. Should we be accountable to take care of ourselves on our off days? Almost every health club in the country has discounts for public safety employees.

If I were an occupational health nurse or safety officer I would lose my mind at the lack of motivation from most medics to ensure their own health and wellness. But since medics are unable to take care of themselves I guess it becomes the burden of the administration to protect us from ourselves. I mean why not, they already buy equipment to allow us to lift safer because we can not be disciplined enough ourselves to use proper mechanics.

Ok, enough ranting about how unmotivated some medics are to exercise. Back to testing. How do you make yearly testing something the crews will adhere to? My first thought is to simply make it a job standard, just like ACLS/PALS are required to maintain your patch. If your certification expires no patient care until you recertify; if you can not pass a fitness test are you not a liability to yourself and the department? Being unfit physically and/or educationally makes you a liability. You would not think of running calls with a revoked certification but you just might be doing it every day with a body that should be revoked.

Stay tuned for a monthly column where we will explore this topic and others further.

If you or your department has fitness testing for Medics please drop me a line and let me know what you do and how you do it, at [email protected].

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