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Firefighters focus on fitness

Rosemount firefighters go through a workout on a recent Wednesday night. Several firefighters have committed to work out and eat better to improve their health.

While firefighters face dangerous situations frequently, the leading cause of death in the profession is not flames or falls. According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, it’s heart attacks.

Rosemount Fire Chief Rick Schroeder is all too aware of that fact, and he’d like to do what he can to help the members of the Rosemount department protect their health. And so the Rosemount Fire Department has partnered with the Warehouse to do a 21-day fitness challenge.

“I want to do something to combat this, so I made it a goal for 2014 to address the issue,” said Schroeder.

In 2012, the most recent year on record, 81 firefighters nationwide died while on duty, according to FEMA. Heart attacks were cited in 39 of the deaths, making the condition the most frequent cause of death.

Heart disease is preventable, though. FEMA recommends that departments have a health and fitness program to protect firefighters.

To get started, Schroeder said he wanted the help of professionals. So he partnered with the Warehouse.

Twelve members of the department signed up to do the challenge. On Monday and Wednesday nights the group gathers with other men from the area to do a 45-minute class taught by fitness instructors Marc and Nickie Carrigan. The group also has been challenged to focus on clean eating. Clean eating encourages consumption of fruits, vegetables and lean meats, while avoiding refined grains and processed foods.

Assistant fire chief Jim Voelker said participating firefighters started the challenge by taking a baseline fitness test. The test identified basic fitness markers such as how many push-ups an individual can do in a minute or how high a person can jump. After the 21 days are complete, the participants will take the fitness test again to see if they have improved.

Voelker said when a call comes in firefighters go from zero to 100-miles per hour. Those bursts create stress which, if not properly addressed, can have a lasting impact.

According to a FEMA study, evidence suggests physical and psychological stress is a significant risk factor for heart disease.

The department’s focus on health, Voelker said, just makes good sense.

While Schroeder hoped more members of the department would participate, he said a good group has signed on. Schroeder said he hopes the men going through the challenge will inspire others in the department to focus on their health as well.

After the 21-day challenge is complete, Schroeder said the department will continue to focus on fitness in-house at the stations. Schroeder said in addition to improving the overall health of firefighters, he hopes the initiative will help foster closer connections within the department.

While ultimately the responsibility is on the firefighters themselves to dedicate time to their fitness, Schroeder said by making it a priority around the fire stations he hopes to create a culture of health.

Emily Zimmer
Emily Zimmer has worked as a staff writer for the Rosemount Town Pages since 2007. She has a degree in journalism from Minnesota State University, Mankato. Outside of work, Emily enjoys running, reading and gardening. You can follow Emily's gardening adventures at the Areavoices blog East of Weedin'
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