Fire fighting is one of the most physically challenging professions anyone can undertake. And, while physical fitness and training have long been part of their daily routines, this year, Alexandria's first responders are introducing a new program to not only keep in shape but also promote team work, an essential element to the success of their mission on every call — firefighters and EMS.
Known as "Cross Fit," this program is being utilized by the U.S. military as well as police and fire departments nationwide. It emphasizes team-oriented functional fitness.
"This is an outstanding complement to our department's focus on employee health, safety, and wellness. It is functional fitness for our crews. It is like a tailor-made program for us," said Alexandria Fire Chief Adam Thiel.
"When we are doing what we do, we have to operate as a team and this program operates the same way. Cross Fit is a team operation and when we work, we work as a team," he said.
On Nov. 11, at the Lee Center Fire Training Academy, the program was introduced not only to members of the Alexandria Fire Department but also to members of the Alexandria and District of Columbia police departments and firefighters from the District's Fire Department. "It is both team building and competitive," said Captain Luis Santano, spokesperson, Alexandria Fire Department.
"The chief wanted a fitness program instituted that would build fitness and team effort. We did a lot of research on the program and sent two of our members to Virginia Beach to train with the Navy Seals," said Battalion Chief Chet Helms, head of Fire Training and developer of the new local program.
"The equipment for the program was bought with federal grant money," Helms said. Although, some of the equipment is actually created from existing materials such as the two or three person large tire drag. Various elements of the program are performed by two or more people working together.
"This program is not mandatory. But, more than 30 percent of our firefighters and EMS personnel have volunteered to do it. I'm expecting a lot more as we get going. This is only the initial day of the competition," Helms said.
<b>TO SAFELY</b> and effectively introduce Cross Fit, several fire department employees became certified Cross Fit trainers. They spend several hours each morning working with colleagues on exercises that emphasize the movements they will later utilizes in the field, such as lifting victims on stretchers into ambulances and climbing ladders into building, according to Santano.
Cross Fit promotes varied workouts and can be adapted to fit anyone. The most experienced and strongest participants can exercise along with those that have never undertaken an exercise program, Santano said.
But, this program also pushes even the most physically fit to their limits, as several firefighters discovered on Nov. 11. A typical Cross Fit session might include throwing medicine balls, using a rowing machine, doing pull-ups, and running or walking while carrying one or two kettle-bells.
"Cross Fit emphasizes workouts that involve several muscle groups at once. A five-minute Cross Fit routine can have the same impact as 30 minutes of traditional weightlifting," Santano said.
"For members of the fire department, improving strength and fitness not only improves their own health, but also the well-being of Alexandria citizens and visitors whom they serve," Thiel said.