Health and wellness
Written by Vern Elliott
How much do you like your life as a firefighter? Are you devoted to the idea of serving your fellow residents? Do you train as often as you can? Does the “pump” of going to that structure fire feed the hunger? Do you forgo other commitments because your pager goes off?
Written by Aaron Brouwer
Everything we do on the fire ground is with a partner and our workouts should be no different. Having a partner will help keep you motivated and hold you accountable to continue your workouts regularly. Finding the right person to be your workout partner is not as easy as it sounds. Consider the following factors when choosing a workout partner: time available; similarity of workouts; accountability; level of motivation; talkativeness; and similarity of goals.
Written by Dr. Will Brooks
Walk into any fire station and ask the crew if anyone has ever suffered from depression. Watch the result. In the average house, silence is the most probable response. Silence, averted glances and changes in body language, all of which say “Let’s not go there.”
Written by Aaron Brouwer
As firefighters, we push our bodies to the limit. Our job is strenuous and physically demanding so it’s natural that we will feel aches and pains, especially in our joints.  There are several things we can do to help relieve joint pain, such as strength training, wearing footwear with good cushioning, icing our joints and taking glucosamine and chondroitin sulphate.
Written by Hilary McRoberts
The FireFit season starts off in a big way this year with the Grind in the City Charity Stair Climb in support of Muscular Dystrophy. Firefighters and others will compete at the Harbour Centre Tower in Vancouver on April 26. This is a great way to get the early season kinks out as FireFit competitors across Canada put their snow shovels away and begin training to see who is fitter, faster and stronger! Check the Grind website at www.grindthecity.com for details.
Written by Sean Tracey
On Oct. 1, 2005, Health Canada introduced the Cig­arette Ignition Propensity Regulations. This was long-fought battle championed by the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs. The intent was to require manufacturers to produce cigarettes that have a higher probability of self extinguishing. It was estimated that this would reduce the number of fire fatalities by as many as 70 people a year in Canada.
Written by Ed Brouwer
Critical Incident Stress Management is a technique used to help trauma victims work through the period immediately following the event. While there are varying schools of CISM practice, all work toward helping victims return to a normal life as soon as possible while reducing the chances they will suffer long-term, post-traumatic stress disorder.
Written by Les Karpluk and Kevin Henbid
The day started out as any normal day with reports to be written and budget to be reviewed but by mid afternoon my back started to cause me some discomfort. No big deal; a couple of ibuprofen and business as usual.
Written by Aaron Brouwer
The two most common types of injuries that happen around a fire hall are slip-and-fall injuries and improper lifting injuries. The fourth edition of The Essentials of Fire Fighting says, “Back injuries have been statistically proven to be the most expensive single type of accident in terms of worker’s compensation, and they occur with surprising frequency.” Back injuries can be frustrating as sufferers are restricted in their mobility during rehab and full recovery can take a long time.
Written by Laura King
There were fewer Canadian competitors than usual at the 2007 Scott Firefighter Combat Challenge but several of those who made the trek to Las Vegas in November came home world champions and a slew of others clocked top-10 finishes.
Written by Aaron Brouwer
Keeping a balanced body
Written by James Haley
He trains on his own, and he does it for his health, the fun and the camaraderie
Written by Aaron Brouwer
Are you prepared?
Written by Aaron Feldman
A new initiative
Written by TREENA HEIN
Two married emergency responders just can’t get enough of the gruelling training, competition and camaraderie
Written by Aaron Brouwer
Stretch for prevention
Written by ERIN BELL
It’s 3:46 a.m. – you’re comfortable, warm – it’s quiet, dark, relaxed. You may even be swept away in a dream somewhere. Suddenly, you’re awakened to the tones of an alarm, a sound so familiar, yet just as startling as the last one that invaded your tranquil slumber. Fearing the worst, but hoping – even praying – for the best,  you put yourselves aside for the sake of others.

Enter the firefighter
Forgoing their own needs, firefighters dedicate themselves to the sound of that alarm. It could mean anything, or it could mean nothing at all – at least, not this time. Putting their focus, energy and hearts into that sound, they respond with lights flashing and engines roaring. Fixated on what’s to come, they have little if no time to consider what’s going on inside of them.

But what is happening inside the firefighter when he or she is responding to an emergency call? A mini-lesson on the stress response might shed some light on this. The body is designed to adapt and cope with periods of stress; the key word here being “periods.” When stress is perceived, we immediately begin the “fight or flight” process. Only in the case of firefighters, “flight” is not an option.  They run into the very places most of us run screaming from.

Stress produces a very real process in the body. People can experience stress and not even realize it. Many bodily systems are affected when we are under stress including the brain, hormones, organs and the immune system.
 
The adrenal glands produce several hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol. Adrenaline gives us the “push” that we need to respond to the stress, and cortisol modifies how our body uses fuel sources while we are experiencing stress. Cortisol is a steroid hormone secreted by the adrenal glands. When we experience stress, there is a “trigger” in the brain to release a hormone called corticotrophin, thereby releasing hormone CRH (think of this hormone as a messenger to alert the body that trouble is coming). CRH then stimulates the adrenal glands (down near the kidneys) to release adrenalin and the stress hormone cortisol.

Cortisol is the primary stress hormone and is needed by our bodies to function. We require some cortisol to help us manage our body’s systems during times of stress. It functions in our brain with something called circadian rhythm - the clock in our brain that controls our sleep-wake pattern. Not exactly good news for firefighters who face constant sleep disturbances and daily variations in their sleep cycles.

Cortisol stimulates protein conversion to energy, suppresses inflammation and temporarily shuts down the immune system so that our body can handle the stress. Chronic high levels of this stress hormone can have serious metabolic effects including increased blood sugar levels (along with an increase in appetite and cravings for carbohydrates and rich foods), loss of muscle mass and an increase in body fat.

After a stressful period, cortisol levels should go down and return to normal. So, we are very much designed to deal with episodes of stress.

What we are not designed to do is experience chronic stress. If the stress does not go down, neither does the cortisol. For firefighters, responding to the potential of multiple alarms or simply waiting around in anticipation of the next call, means stress levels don’t often get the chance to return to normal. Research has concluded that stress is the main cause of almost 80 per cent of illnesses, serious diseases like heart disease, psychological disorders, cancer and hormonal dysfunctions. Because the damage caused by stress is not something that is easily measured, it is somewhat of a paradox in that the physiological response of the body to stress is two-fold; it protects and restores, yet the same systems have the ability to destroy.

Unlike acute (temporary) stress, which usually invokes a response and then subsides, chronic stress is more cumulative, negative and unrelenting – being defined with feelings of tiredness, fatigue, anger, irritability and lack of energy.

The brain reacts the same way, whether we are in acute stress or chronic stress, because it cannot distinguish between the two. Constant stress can cause free-radical damage (free-radicals are highly reactive, unstable molecules that cause cellular damage and cell death) and nutritional deficiencies that can have serious consequences, even in someone who appears fit and healthy and consciously tries to keep a clean diet. High levels of cortisol can lead to muscle wasting. Reduced muscle mass is not exactly beneficial to someone who might need to carry another person down a flight of stairs, or hump a heavy hoseline clad in turnout gear! It can also lead to reduced levels of the brain neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine – both of which are calming to the body.

Conditions that reduce the levels of these neurotransmitters can develop into depression and mood/behavioural disorders. 

Each time the firefighter responds, their body’s stress response also responds, and even if it’s only a false alarm, the stress response of the body is still activated. You as a firefighter know what that is like, doing it several times a day or in the middle of the night.

It is of absolute importance that firefighters and their authorities educate themselves about stress and its potential negative effects. Understanding their individual needs, requesting proper medical tests (stress tests, cardiovascular, hormone and cortisol tests) as well as paying close attention to their nutritional and fitness needs should be at the forefront of training and education in modern firefighting. 

References:

1. Maté, G., When the Body Says No, The Costs of Hidden Stress, Knopf, 2003.
2. Talbott, S, The Cortisol Connection, Hunter House, 2002.
3. Selye, H., Stress Without Distress, Harper & Row, 1974.
4. Talbott, S., The Cortisol Connection, Hunter House, 2002.
5. Hancock, M., Young and Stressed, Alive, 251, September 2003.
6. McEwen, B.S., Protective and Damaging Effects of Stress Mediators, Seminars in Medicine of the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Centre, New England Journal of Medicine, 171, 1998.
7. ibid, p. 172.
8. Stefano, M., www.firefightersworkout.com
9. Scala, W.R., Research Features www.paramedic.com


Erin Bell is a researcher and writer currently studying to become a registered nutritionist. She is married to a full-time firefighter in southern Ontario.
Written by Aaron Brouwer
No excuses for not exercising
Written by ANDRé BOUCHARD
Examining the importance of a trained Rapid Intervention Team (RIT)
Written by Aaron Brouwer
Don’t ignore the pain
Page 5 of 6

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