Health & Wellness
Overview of the AVFD Health and Safety Program
The Avon Volunteer Fire Department, through a series of progressive and visionary measures put in place over two decades through the administrations of Fire Chiefs James DiPace and Michael Trick, has established and maintains a comprehensive health and wellness program for its most valuable resource, its volunteer members, that complies with the requirements of the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).
In 2004, based upon recommendations of the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation, 16 Firefighting Life Safety Initiatives were published, and fully 50 percent of the initiatives were based in the promotion of fire department preventive health and wellness programs, with the remaining 50 percent targeting department operational safety programs.
The cost of maintaining such a program is frequently out of reach of many volunteer organizations. Nevertheless, just as indispensable as the maintenance and regular inspection of our apparatus and safety equipment is the regular examination and health maintenance of our personnel, for without them operating at peak performance, the mission of the fire department is compromised, and the lives of our members and those whom we are sworn to protect are jeopardized. For this reason, the Board of Directors, and the leadership of the AVFD have prioritized this program by committing necessary funds, and supporting essential initiatives, to ensure that “Everyone Goes Home.” The components of this program include:
- a physical examination program for candidate and incumbent members,
- a preventive medical services program to include seasonal vaccinations,
- a health-related fitness program including a periodic physical fitness monitoring program,
- an employee assistance program to include behavioral health services and access to critical incident stress management services,
- periodic assessment of physical and mental job skills,
- a fire incident and training rehabilitation program,
- monitoring of rehabilitation in cases of injury and acquired disability,
- a comprehensive infection control program,
- a comprehensive occupational safety program that complies with the requirements of Title 29 CFR 1910, parts .95, .120, .134, .1020, and .1030 (pertaining to noise exposure, hazardous waste and emergency response, respiratory protection, exposure and medical records access, and blood-borne pathogens), and
- a wellness program, to address lifestyle choices and physiologic optimization (tobacco cessation, alcohol moderation, regular exercise, healthy eating habits and weight management, glycemic and blood pressure control, injury rehabilitation).
The NFPA places responsibility for health and safety programs under the auspices of the fire department health and safety officer. The AVFD’s protocols have placed the responsibility for administering health and wellness programs under the medical officer, who in turn is supervised by the health and safety officer, or the chief officer charged with those responsibilities should the health and safety officer position be vacant. Safety programs, as they pertain to medical issues, also fall under the authority of the medical officer, while non-medical and other operational safety issues are the responsibility of the safety officer.
AVFD Wellness and Fitness initiative:
A Ten-Year Progressive Plan for Culture Change
Purpose of the AVFD Wellness and Fitness Initiative
To motivate incumbent personnel toward, and replace retiring personnel with new members that are recruited with the expectation of, development and maintenance of a constant state of readiness, that values and maintains an athletic level of fitness (strength, flexibility and endurance), physiologic health (blood pressure control, glycemic control, weight management), heart-healthy lifestyle choice (avoidance of tobacco use, abstinence from drugs, moderation in use of alcohol), and adherence to best practices for uniform and personal decontamination after occupational exposure, respiratory protection, and protection from transmission of infectious disease.
Components of the AVFD Wellness and Fitness Program
Based on NFPA 1583 Standard on Health-Related Fitness Programs for Fire Department Members, tailored to meet the needs, and operate within the resources, of our department and community, and intended to ensure a ready force of well trained and physically fit rescuers, the WFI is composed of six main elements:
I. Health/Fitness Coordinator
Implementation of the fitness program begins with the appointment of the health and fitness coordinator (HFC). The HFC serves as the administrator of the health and fitness program, and will oversee the day-to-day operation and make sure that the program does not wither or become neglected. The NFPA 1583 Standard on Health-Related Fitness Programs for Fire Department Members states that the HFC shall have specific academic course work relevant to the program components as well as formal certification from a professional organization. The department may from time to time have a member or members with the requisite training and experience (e.g., a member who majored in exercise physiology in college). However, if an existing staff member cannot be identified, the standard allows for the department to contract with an outside agent. Physical therapists, athletic trainers, and nurse practitioners are choices readily available in the local area. Besides the academic requirements, department officers should identify someone who demonstrates leadership and is approachable, since peer fitness trainers and the individual members may occasionally wish to consult with this individual regarding personal health matters.
II. Peer Fitness Trainer Program
Peer fitness trainers are fire service personnel specifically trained to assist other fire department personnel in setting and achieving their fitness goals safely and effectively as part of a structured health and wellness program. Among their many responsibilities, PFT’s will be accessible as a resource for our members who have questions regarding their fitness and exercise routines, and injury prevention during exercise. The PFT is to be the “buddy” that helps fitness partnerships succeed. There is a PFT certification program through the American Council on Exercise (ACE) that was developed in conjunction with the International Association of Fire Chiefs and the International Association of Fire Fighters. PFT’s attain certification by attending a five-day workshop and taking an examination to become certified. The PFT works under the direction of the health and fitness coordinator, or may assume that role if necessary. The PFT may perform individual exercise revisions and coaching. This is a valuable resource for the promotion of preventative and corrective exercises, as well as for those members who have recently returned to work from an injury and may benefit from some continued supervision during exercise.
III. Periodic Fitness Assessment Program
Periodic fitness/physical assessments are important in any industry where manual work is deemed an essential job function, but especially so with the fire service. Here, not only is one’s own health at stake but also that of team members, patients, and fire victims. NFPA 1583 states that the fitness assessment will be conducted at least annually and will be composed of five elements: aerobic capacity, body composition, muscular strength, muscular endurance, and flexibility. The AVFD ten-year plan for implementing this program calls for a graded, step-wise process by which members will initially be invited to participate in a voluntary assessment program. In years 3-5, a rewards-based program will be structured to incentivize members and increase participation. Starting in year 5, new recruits will be brought on board with mandatory participation in a structured assessment program, which will eventually become mandatory for all incumbent members by year ten. Quality review and program improvements based on participant feedback and data analysis will guide program development over the implementation period, and present and future recruitment and retention efforts will put a particular focus physical preparedness.
IV. Exercise Training
The exercise program component of NFPA 1583 has several sub-elements but in general will include an educational component regarding the benefits of exercise, guidelines on warm-up and cool-down periods, aerobic exercise availability, muscular flexibility, strength and endurance, and a component on healthy back exercises. The standard also dictates that members will receive an individualized exercise prescription based on the results of the fitness assessment. This is where we see the importance of the Peer Fitness Trainer (PFT).
V. Education and counseling regarding health promotion
In addition to periodic presentations from the department’s medical contractor Hartford Healthcare Medical Group which we currently enjoy, the department will continue to make available information regarding health risk reduction, fitness, and the prevention of occupational injury. Presentations at corporate meetings, and general email messaging is currently used to do this, but another convenient and effective way to do this is through a bulletin board. General or fire industry-specific information is readily available and can be posted on the board along with take-away pamphlets and brochures. Annual or semiannual training seminars on lifting, materials handling, and ergonomics are also a popular method of reducing injury and meeting the standard.
VI. Collecting and maintaining program data
Demographics, fitness assessment results, and program participation data are collected and saved to allow comparison at a future date–i.e. the next fitness assessment or the next year’s group data. Although the department may wish to create a custom database using an available tool such as Microsoft Access, using Excel spreadsheets will also work and takes less technical savvy. A separate page for fitness assessment results should be created for each member and a separate page for group results. Although simple to implement, this process creates powerful information which allows the leadership to know if the program is working and where improvements need to be made. Positive outcomes also help to justify budget decisions such as the training and certification of PFTs or the purchase of new exercise equipment.
Overview Plan and Timeline for AVFD Wellness and Fitness Initiative Implementation
Phase I Promotion and Encouragement of Individual Adoption of Program Goals
Phase II Voluntary Participation in Quarterly Fitness Assessments
Phase III Required Participation of New Recruits in Quarterly Fitness Assessment Program
Phase IV Required Participation of All Members with < 10 Years of Service
Phase V Required Participation of All Personnel
- Quarterly Fitness Assessment: BMI, Muscular Strength, Flexibility, cardiovascular and muscular endurance, blood pressure weight, cholesterol and glycemic management
- Annual Physical Performance Qualification
- Recruit Fitness Assessment
- Fitness Program (crew workouts, individual programs, gym memberships)
- Incentive Program
Timeline for Phase Implementation:
I II III IV V
1/1/16 6/30/18 1/1/21 6/30/23 1/1/26
Present 2.5 years 5 years 7.5 years 10 years
Click HERE to download a PDF copy of the Guide to AVFD Health and Wellness Programs.
To donate to the AVFD Health & Wellness Initiative, please click HERE.
Funds are specifically for the support of the work the AVFD does with Drive Train Athletics.