Happy, healthy and here

Published:  01 September, 2008

Cumbria Fire and Rescue Service has been winning awards for its approach to fitness for a number of years, and today it is one of the leading brigades with regards to health and fitness in the UK.

In some ways this success came as a bit of a surprise for Senior Occupational Health Sister Sharon McAdam, as she believed that measuring levels of health and fitness should be the core business of any Fire Service occupational health provider.  In fact, she is surprised that fitness assessments are not carried out routinely in all brigades.

Since Sharon started at Cumbria the brigade has been receiving widespread recognition for its work both within the Fire Service and from outside organisations. Cumbria has become a success because it has focused on ensuring all firefighters know what is expected of them fitness-wise, as well as providing access to health personnel and Physical Training Advisors (PTAs) whenever a firefighter, or even administrative member of staff, requires it. “We visit all fire stations including our retained (part-time) stations as often as possible to make sure those in the more remote locations are kept up to date with fitness training, and can speak to us in confidence about any issues they may have. This has really helped people come to understand what we do and the importance of health and fitness in relation to their role within the organisation.”

As well as this, each wholetime station has a raft of equipment for firefighters to use, including, a multi-gym, fit ball, weights, exercise bikes, treadmills and more. Retained stations also have a small amount of  fitness equipment. Furthermore two PTA advisors are available per watch to give advice and help with any issues firefighters may have. Sharon comments, “Taking a holistic approach has helped us become one of the leading fire services with regards fitness. The PTAs have become ambassadors for occupational health: they undertake fitness testing, weight, upper body strength assessments and body fat analysis. They give advice on programmes on improving strength and fitness and weight reduction. They also offer advice to prospective new recruits to ensure we maintain those high levels.” And the evidence backs this up – the number of retirements due to ill health has been zero since 2005, and 2008 is bang on course to continue this trend. This success has seen Cumbria win several Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) awards for their approach to fitness and health.

As well as offering firefighters access to leading physiotherapists and PTAs, Cumbria also operates a strict policy of removing those who fail fitness tests and putting them on modified duties until they are fit enough to return to full operational duties. “If someone has to be taken off operational duties we assign them a PTA who offers them guidance and advice on a one-to-one basis to help them get back in shape as soon as possible as well as looking at their medical history to see if there is any reason causing them to not be able to improve their fitness. Failing people on the medical is not something we like to do but we have to be mindful of the safety and wellbeing of our staff and have a duty of care towards them. Our aim is to ensure that all our firefighters start fit, stay fit and are safe at work – happy, healthy and here.”

  • Operation Florian

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