This eBook contains the background, detailed instructions, and scoring for the Physical Fitness Assessment being used at CRFR/SRFD.
The job of a firefighter is one of the most physically demanding jobs in the world. Fire ground operations involve a sequence of various movements and activities at varying intensities. A first-in company may expect to perform a list of tasks in succession—for example, carrying and operating tools and equipment, placing and climbing ladders, pulling and advancing hose, climbing stairs, wrestling a hose stream, and/or pushing and pulling ceiling. In some departments, a company may be called on to accomplish all these tasks within its first bottle of air. This scenario is similar to an exhausting full-body workout requiring muscular strength, muscular endurance, and cardiovascular fitness. Emergency medical services (EMS) and rescue tasks are often not as physically exhausting as the high-paced, highintensity fire ground operations but still require functional movement patterns and strength. Objectives are often accomplished with more thought and care. However, lifting and assisting patients, extricating victims, and moving and operating equipment in a trench or at a collapse scene may all require the rescuer to function in awkward and vulnerable positions and postures. Crawling or reaching into a vehicle to maneuver a patient onto a backboard requires a combination of core strength and muscular endurance to protect the back.
The following program has been adopted from the Aurora Colorado Fire Department. Since 2013, they have conducted a 3 module annual PFA that incorporates a work-capacity component, a VO2-max estimation, and Functional Movement Screening.
Firefighting requires high levels of cardiovascular endurance, muscular strength, and muscular endurance. The work capacity assessment gives our firefighters the ability to measure their fitness and how their bodies will respond on the fire ground. Each exercise has been selected to mimic movements that we would expect to perform on the fire ground. The 4 stations are designed to be performed in succession; while monitoring heart rate and wearing PT gear (Gym shorts, T-shirt and athletic shoes), firefighters will work at each station for 1 minute. A repetition count is recorded for each individual station and a total repetition count is recorded at the end of all 4 stations. Once the firefighter has completed all 4 stations, the firefighter’s heart rate will be recorded. The drop in each firefighter’s heart rate over the 2 minutes immediately following cessation of activity is recorded. Heart rate recovery (HRR) is recognized as an important predictive factor for adverse cardiac events. The measures obtained from this work capacity component are being used to establish a tiered system that is non-punitive but serves as a benchmark of individual ability within the context of peers.
The second module consists of an estimated VO2-max component. It is believed that the rower is a valid and relevant measure of physiological preparedness for fire ground activities. Rowing requires the use of all the major muscle groups in a coordinated manner; the production of power required to row well taxes the cardiovascular system and it is low impact, reducing the likelihood of injuries while training.
The third module is the Functional Movement Screening component. The FMS portion is designed to identify future injury potential and provide corrective exercises that can be used to minimize that risk. It is a tool for self-improvement and therefore not graded as part of the overall fitness score.
All of the equipment utilized in this assessment is available in the stations and at the Training Center. The assessment components are accessible to all members while on duty. The assessment itself can be conducted at any of the stations, at training, and even at headquarters. Additionally, the assessment activities and equipment can be easily incorporated into daily fitness routine by the crews to increase job-related preparedness.
Per IAFF/IAFC agreement, the ideal PFA should be non-punitive. This has been, and remains, a contentious issue in the fire service. It places the impetus for maintaining physical fitness on the individual firefighter. Some place a higher value on fitness than others. In the hierarchy of demands, often times, fitness slips when a firefighter encounters life stressors whether that be due to the job and its demands (sleep deprivation, erratic schedule, poor nutrition, emotional impact of calls), the family and its demands (schedules, children, relationship problems), or financial pressures necessitating second jobs.
Our ultimate objective is to develop a program that creates buy-in and encourages personal dedication to fitness. We have incorporated movements and equipment that are readily available in the fire stations to remove as many obstacles as possible. It is the belief of the Health and Wellness Committee that the department can further support this objective by including time as the schedule of duty allows for firefighters to engage in fitness activities while on duty. Departments that have already implemented comprehensive wellness programs initially created the standard that members should meet or exceed their numbers for the previous year’s assessment. In practice, they have found that a certain percentage of the members have opted to set low personal goals. This undermines the concept of an assessment as a measure of physical ability to perform the job. Without an agreed upon standard, fitness is challenging to measure. In order to establish such a standard, They reviewed several years of data for the work capacity and row modules of the PFA.
VO2-Max is agreed to be the international reference standard for cardiorespiratory fitness (the body’s ability to take up and use oxygen). How to best measure VO2-Max is controversial. Max effort with measurement of expired air is the gold standard. However, this often not practical due to time, equipment needs, cost, and the inherent risk in pushing someone to a maximal effort. Several submaximal effort methods have been suggested as a means of approximating VO2-Max. These means usually involve using an ergometer (exercise machine equipped with an apparatus for measuring the work performed by exercising). Most studies correlating actual VO2-Max measurements with predicted VO2-Max estimation reveal that the estimations fall short of the actual value. Often, the margin of error is as great as +/- 10%. This assessment bases the ergometer module on the O’Neill 4 Minute Max Row Test which has been validated as a measure of cardio-respiratory fitness among professional rowers, grouping them by meters rowed into categories: Excellent, Good, Above Average, Average, and Below Average.
This assessment adheres to the performance protocols of the O’Neill but grades the results within our personnel pool. 5 zones of performance have been created based on collected performance data. This pool of data incorporates variations due to age, technique, gender and mass; therefore we do not make further accommodation for those factors. As fire ground operations do not change in response to these factors, we feel this is more than appropriate. Our data is validated within our population via statistical analysis.
Two years of data were plotted in Excel and the median, mean, and standard deviation for meters rowed along with the total reps completed was calculated. A 5 zone system was then created based on the standard deviations.
Zone 1 is considered the highest level of fitness. This is a firefighter who is considered to be a tactical athlete, possessing superior physical ability, stamina, and strength. Zone 1 exceeds the mean by more than one standard deviation.
Zone 2 represents a high level of fitness. This is a firefighter who demonstrates excellent work capacity and cardio-respiratory fitness. Zone 2 extends from the mean up to one standard deviation above.
Zone 3 meets fitness standards. This is a firefighter who demonstrates the work capacity and cardiorespiratory fitness to succeed on the fire ground. Zone 3 extends from one standard deviation below the mean to the mean.
Zone 4 represents a potential for improvement. This is a firefighter who possesses the physical ability but is somewhat deconditioned for the needs of the job. Zone 4 ranges from 1 to 1.5 standard deviations below the mean. Placement in this zone requires participation in an exercise/wellness program created specifically for this individual by Health & Safety with the goal of improving to at least a zone 3.
Zone Rep Range Row Range (m)
1 (More than 1 StDev above mean) >233 >1098
2 (Mean plus up to 1 StDev) 201-233 990-1098
3 (Mean less up to 1 StDev) 168-200 881-989
4 (Mean less 1-1.5 StDev) 151-167 826-880
5 (Mean less more than 1.5 StDev) <151 <826
Zone 5 represents a concern for the well-being of this individual. This level of performance suggests either extreme deconditioning or a potential underlying medical issue hindering the safe accomplishment of basic job tasks and potentially endangering the firefighter or crew. Zone 5 begins at 1.5 standard deviations below the mean. Placement in this zone will result in transfer from full duty to a training assignment. At training, this individual will work daily with the training staff and Health and Safety representative to improve fitness parameters. If deemed necessary, a medical fit for duty evaluation may also be recommended.
The total fitness score should be calculated in three components: the work capacity reps, the meters rowed, and the average of the 2 zones indicated by those scores. For example, an individual completing 222 reps would score zone 2.38. A row of 1034m would score 2.59. Average for overall zone would be: 2.42.
Click On The Icon Below To View The Physical Fitness Assessment Scoring Table
This event is designed to simulate the critical tasks of climbing stairs with equipment in hands. This event challenges the firefighter’s aerobic capacity, lower body muscular endurance, and ability to balance. This event affects the aerobic energy system as well as the following muscle groups: quadriceps, hamstrings, gluteus, calves, grip strength, and lower back stabilizers.
Step-Ups: Using a 12” step and holding 20lb dumbbells in each hand, the firefighter will step up and down alternating legs each step for 1 minute. Total repetitions will be recorded.
This event is designed to simulate the critical task of breaching and pulling down a ceiling to check for fire extension. This event challenges the firefighter’s aerobic capacity, upper and lower body muscular strength and endurance, grip strength and endurance, and anaerobic endurance. This event affects the aerobic and anaerobic energy systems as well as the following muscle groups: quadriceps, hamstrings, gluteus, abdominals, torso rotators, lower back stabilizers, deltoids, trapezius, triceps, biceps, and muscles of the forearm and hand (grip).
Overhaul: Holding a 20lb curl bar, the firefighter moves the bar upward and downward simulating breaching and pulling ceiling for 1 minute. Firefighters have the option to change grips during this station. Total repetitions will be recorded.
TRX-HAMSTRING CURL (Hips Lifted)
Fire ground operations involve a large percentage of lower body and core muscular strength. This exercise challenges the hamstrings, hips, glutes, and core. It targets the Gluteus Maximums (glutes), Hamstrings Erector Spinae, Rectus Abdominus (abs), Transverse Abdominus, Gluteus Medius/Minimus (Abductors), Adductors, and Obliques.
TRX Hamstring Curl: To perform this exercise, lie on back with both heels in the foot cradles. Press the hips off the ground so the body is completely aligned. Keep the feet dorsiflexed. Pull the heels under the body toward the glutes in a leg curl motion. Return to start position with control. Total repetitions will be recorded.
TRX- LOW ROW
This exercise creates the pulling motion; the majority of fire ground motions involve pulling and pushing. This event challenges the firefighter’s aerobic capacity, upper and lower body muscular strength and endurance, grip strength and endurance, and anaerobic endurance. This event affects the aerobic and anaerobic energy system as well as the following muscle groups: Back Latissimus Doris (Lats), Erector Spine, Biceps, Rectus Abdominus (abs), Transverse Abdominus, and Obliques.
TRX-Low Row: Face anchor point with feet shoulder-width apart. Hold handles with arms extended. Lean back and walk feet forward to create a 45-degree angle with the body. Keep shoulders pulled down and back. Pull body toward anchor point using back and arms. Keep elbows at a 45-degree angle to body. Total repetitions will be recorded.
Following completion of the four stations you will be taking a full five minute recovery period prior to beginning the cardio-respiratory assessment.
During the first two minutes, you will be monitoring your heart rate recovery.
Heart Rate Recovery
Heart rate recovery is a term used when referencing how quickly your heart rate reduces following intense exercise. Recovery heart rate is used in some fitness tests to evaluate the heart's ability to recover from exercise. The recovery pulse rate may be used to estimate an exerciser's fitness level.
Immediately upon finishing your last station, count your heart rate. This is your "post-exercise heart rate". Wait two full minutes, then count your heart rate a second time. This is your "recovery heart rate". You will then subtract the "recovery heart rate" from the "post-exercise heart rate" to determine your "rate of reduction".
Is My Heart Rate Recovery Good?
So, how do you know if your heart rate recovery is normal?
As a general rule, a lower recovery heart rate following vigorous exercise is better. The standard for heart rate recovery is 15-25 beats per minute. In other words, we are looking for a "rate of reduction" between 30-50 beats per minute following two minutes of rest.
If your heart rate decreases by 12 or less beats per minute (or 24 beats per minute following the two minute rest), this could be a sign of abnormal heart rate recovery. Studies have shown that an abnormal heart rate recovery is an indicator of increased risk for death from heart disease and follow-up with a physician should take place.
In any activity, oxygen delivery to the cell is critical, and the capacity to deliver it to the tissue usually determines the level of activity an individual can perform. The critical measure of metabolism and energy expenditure is oxygen consumption (VO2) which is a factor of heart rate, stroke volume, and oxygen consumed (arterial minus venous oxygen concentration) during an activity:
VO2=HR X SV X (CaO2-CvO2)
VO2-max, or maximal oxygen uptake, is one factor that can determine an individual's capacity to perform sustained exercise and is linked to aerobic endurance. VO2-max refers to the maximum amount of oxygen that an individual can utilize during intense or maximal exercise. It is measured as milliliters of oxygen used in one minute per kilogram of body weight. This measurement is generally considered the best indicator of an individual's cardiovascular fitness and aerobic endurance. Theoretically, the more oxygen you can use during high level exercise, the more ATP (energy) you can produce. This is often the case with elite endurance athletes who typically have very high VO2 max values.
The term MET (metabolic equivalent) denotes the energy requirement for base level metabolism. 1 MET equals approximately 3.5ml of oxygen per Kg of body weight per minute and is the approximate amount of energy required to sleep. Multiples of this value are often used to quantify relative levels of energy expenditure. VO2-max is the maximum oxygen a person can utilize and is expressed in ml/kg/min or METs. Per NFPA, the minimum required VO2 max for firefighting is 42ml/kg/min or 12 METs.
This phase of the assessment is performed by simply having the participant row as far as possible in four minutes. Upon completion of the four-minute row, the total distance is recorded and assigned a score..
A quick basic review of oxygen use by the body: oxygen is inhaled into the lungs, and diffused from the alveoli to the blood where it binds with hemoglobin the red blood cell. The heart pumps the oxygen rich blood to the rest of the body and the muscles. Oxygen enters the muscle cell where the mitochondria combine it with sugar to create energy. In order to create this energy, both stored sugar (glycogen) and oxygen need to be present in the muscle. A test to measure how effectively oxygen is delivered to muscle is called an exercise tolerance test/graded exercise test. The most accurate type of test involves measuring inhaled and exhaled air volume and oxygen concentration then calculating total oxygen usage during this exercise. However, this is expensive, time-consuming, and requires specialized equipment. In order to provide accurate VO2-max estimations more easily, validated formulas have been created based on treadmill speed and grade or ergometer workload/power output.
Theoretically, there is a linear response of heart rate with increasing workloads, which allows calculation of predicted VO2-max without taking a person to exhaustion, and without directly measuring oxygen consumption, which is expensive and time-consuming. A person can improve his/her VO2-max with specific training. The addition of this component to the assessment will give personnel a benchmark to gauge their progress not only from year to year, but will also allow them to retest themselves whenever desired.
Functional Movement Screen
There are over one million fire fighters in the United States and the injury rates of firefighters are among the highest in all occupations. In 2017, approx 58,835 firefighters sustained injuries while on duty in the U.S. 42% of these injuries occurred on the fireground. 48% of these fireground injuries consisted of sprains and strains (NFPA Journal, November December 2018).
In addition to fireground operations, more and more fire departments are responding to medical emergencies. Between 1981 and 2017 these non-fire emergency responses have increased 332%. Sprains, strains, and muscular pain accounted for 56% of these non-fire incidents in 2017 (NFPA Journal, November December 2018).
Because fireground injuries are of particular concern from an occupational hazard perspective, the circumstances leading to the injuries were examined. Overexertion or strain was the leading cause of injury at 29%. Other major causes were falls, jumps, or slips which accounted for 20% of the injuries (NFPA Journal, November December 2018).
FMS is a ranking and grading system that documents movement patterns that are key to normal function. By screening these patterns, the FMS readily identifies functional limitations and asymmetries. These are issues that can reduce the effects of functional training and physical conditioning and distort body awareness. The foundation of FMS is the concept that, in order to maximize performance, the whole body must be functioning properly. When the body is considered as a chain of individual elements, it’s reasonable that a weak link weakens the entire chain. Ignoring a weak link increases the potential for disaster, and strengthening the wrong links will not improve the integrity of the chain. The FMS provides the means to identify and resolve any weak links that may be jeopardizing the body and its healthy motion.
The FMS generates the Functional Movement Screen Score, which is used to target problems and track progress. This scoring system is directly linked to the most beneficial corrective exercises to restore mechanically sound movement patterns. The Functional Movement Screen can be completed in approx 15 minutes and consists of seven different functional movements that assess: trunk or core strength and stability; neuromuscular coordination; symmetry of movement; flexibility; acceleration; deceleration; and dynamic stability. Each of these seven movements corresponds to a firefighter activity. For example, one of the FMS measures is the rotary stability test. This test requires the firefighter to maintain spinal column stability with upper and lower trunk motion while balancing the body weight with one hand and knee on the floor. The maneuver duplicates the fire fighter work practice of staying low to the floor while entering a burning building.
Scores on the seven FMS tests are based on the firefighter’s ability to perform the respective test. Zero to three points are possible for each of the seven tests (maximum 21 points). The maximum number of points is given if the individual can fully perform the test without limitation of movement or pain. Lesser points are given for partial completion of the test and no points if the movement pattern causes pain to the participant. Lower scores are directly related to increased likelihood of injury.
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