One of the hardest things we do as firefighters is fighting a high-rise fire. Not only do we have to deal with fighting the fire, but we also have to get up to the fire. No, we don’t get to take the elevator up with all our equipment, we have to gear up and grab any tool (hose, forcible entry tool, spare SCBA bottles, etc.) and walk up one step at a time. This is a great measuring stick to find out how in shape you really are. When you walk up 10 floors, in full turnout gear, wearing your SCBA and carrying two spare SCBA bottles, do you need five minutes to recover or can you go straight to work?
This article will showcase a great stair workout you can do to help improve leg strength, enhance your cardio and enable you to climb stairs during a fire and go straight to work. Some points to remember:
Pre-hydrate: The day you are going to do this workout be sure to drink lots of water. Prepare your body for the workout ahead.
Pace yourself: Find a speed at which you are comfortable and stay at that pace. You want to find a pace where for the last two flights of stairs you are pushing your body to the maximum, so don’t start so fast that you exhaust yourself halfway up.
Get enough rest: This is an intense workout on your legs, so be sure to take enough days to recover before attempting this workout again. A good schedule to use is a four-day cycle. Days 1 & 2 – cardio (jogging, swimming, or cycling); Day 3 – stairs; and Day 4 – Rest and recovery before starting the cycle again.
Warm up and cool down: Make sure you take at least five minutes to do a good stretch of your legs prior to hitting the core of the program. It is very important to have a full cooldown after the workout. Go for a slow walk or spend 10 to 15 minutes stretching. After such an intense workout the cooldown will help your muscles recover faster and help lower your heart rate before moving on with your day.
Try to find a place that has five flights of stairs (roughly about 100 stairs in total). Parkades, apartments, firehalls, parks or walkways are good locations to find stairs. Figure out when the stairs are not so busy as you will be going up and down several times and don’t need the distractions of stopping and waiting for someone.
Using a weighted vest
You can do the workout without a weighted vest, however, you will see faster results with one. There are several options for weighted vests. You can purchase one (prices range from $80-150) or you can make your own. To make a weighted vest, you will need a vest with lots of pockets on it; the pockets need to be on the front and back (a fishing vest is perfect). Grab some Ziploc bags (sandwich and freezer size) and fill them with sand. Duct tape the bag shut and now you have a variety of weights with which to fill your vest. Sandwich bags can hold about two pounds and freezer bags can hold five or more pounds depending on the size. Your vest should range from 20 to 40 pounds.
When going up the stairs try to take two steps at a time, but when you come down the stairs make sure you hit every step. Find a partner to work out with. Having a partner will keep you motivated and give you a good amount of rest time between sets. If you can’t find a partner, then take two-minute breaks between each exercise. Once you feel that this is getting too easy, either add another set to each exercise or add more weight to your vest.
Work hard, push yourself each time you are out there and you will see the results of your effort.
Stay safe, stay fit.
Aaron Brouwer has 17 years of combined experience in structural and wildland fires. A graduate of Trinity Western University with a Bachelor’s of Human Kinetics, he is an instructor with Canwest Fire. E-mail him at
Fit for Life: One step at a time
One step at a time
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