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Jefferson City Fire Department stepping up its fitness standards

A Mid-Missouri fire department is stepping up its fitness standards.

In mid-May, all 72 active-duty employees of the Jefferson City Fire Department will be required to do a physical assessment test. Something that only new hire candidates have had to do in the past.

In the meantime, all employees from firefighters up to captains are preparing by taking part in a new fitness program. That includes exercising an hour each day they’re on duty and going to fitness trainings.

Fire Chief Matt Schofield said his goal is to meet the National Firefighter Protection Association regulations for fitness.

“For us, fitness is a high priority not just in increasing our performance for the community that we serve, but also as we work together in a team type of environment we rely on each other to be able to perform a very physical task,” Schofield said. “And so we know that it’s an important thing for us to be able to do, and do well.”

The physical assessment test is made up of seven steps that simulate what firefighters have to do in real-life situations. That includes things like carrying heavy medical bags, pulling a charged hose line, going up several flights of stairs with a 60 pound high-rise pack, dragging a 160 pound dummy and more.

Chief Schofield said even though there was some hesitation to the new fitness program at first, everyone has warmed up to the idea.

“You know, there have been some folks that I think any time you introduce change, there’s always some resistance,” Schofield said. “But I think it’s interesting that a lot of those folks that initially had resistance now understand the value.”

Joel Swader, one of the three shift health and fitness coordinators, said 57 percent of firefighter deaths are from heart disease. And 80 percent of all firefighter injuries are sprained or strained muscles.

“Fitness is not just about lifting weights and running fast,” Swader said. “We wanted to reach out and educate guys on stretching mobility, nutrition and things like that.”

The department has had several training sessions the last six months on stretching, exercise techniques and more, Swader said. And a nutritionist will be giving a presentation within the next month.

Assistant Fire Chief Lonnie Brandt is the longest standing employee with 42 years of service with the fire department. He said although he stays in good shape, he has already seen a difference in mobility from the stretching. He plans to go out with a bang by taking the test the morning of May 13 and retiring that afternoon.

“I’m going to set the all-time record for my age bracket in this,” Brandt said. “And then probably beat most of the guys that are 20 to 30 years younger, just want to let them know that.”

Cheif Schofield said this year, it is not a pass/fail test. Firefighters will not have to meet a certain time requirement, they just have to complete it. But in the future, he said each employee may have to meet a time standard for their age bracket as they ease into the fitness program.

Schofield said they will record the results of this year’s test and see what the department needs to improve upon in the coming years.

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