As a wildland firefighter, you encounter extremely physically demanding situations that require you to traverse steep, rugged terrain, carry heavy loads, and hike for miles on end. There is no denying that the duties of a wildland firefighter will test your endurance, strength, and overall physical abilities. To ensure your safety and the safety of those you have committed your life to protecting from dangerous wildfires, you must be up for the job. As such, regular fitness training is a necessity. To learn how to get in shape to become a wildland firefighter, continue reading.
Before You Start Training
Before you start a rigorous fitness program to get in shape for the strenuous duties that wildland firefighters face, consult your physician. Getting a proper health screening by a licensed physician will minimize your potential for injury or other health concerns that could arise during your training.
In addition to getting a health screening from your physician, you’ll want to acquire the right equipment. Engaging in high levels of physical activity while wearing the wrong footwear or training apparel can substantially increase your chance of injury. As such, take the time to find a sturdy pair of well-fitted shoes to begin your wildland firefighter training journey.
The FireFit Program
The FireFit program exists to help firefighters learn how to get in shape to become a wildland firefighter and take on the various physical challenges of their role. It serves specifically to help firefighters get in shape for the upcoming fire season after the off-season. The program is balanced, easy-to-follow, and, most importantly, optimized to ensure the safety and health of firefighters. In addition to making sure that the firefighters can efficiently accomplish their respective duties, the program also helps to reduce common injuries and health concerns that wildland firefighters face.
The comprehensive program includes five key focus groups: cardiovascular fitness, muscular fitness, muscle endurance, flexibility, and rest. It takes place over the course of eight weeks, with the assumption that participants have been engaging in a post-season maintenance program. As such, if you are a new wildland firefighter entering into your first fire season, it is beneficial to start your training earlier than the allotted eight-week period to ensure that you are physically ready for it. The first six weeks of the eight-week program will involve ramping up and progressively improving your physical capabilities. The last two weeks, however, will serve as more of a transition period to get you ready to enter the fire season after you’ve developed your fitness base. During this time, the focus is on the physical as well as the mental components of fitness. Below, we will discuss the five major aspects of fitness that the comprehensive FireFit program includes.
The leading cause of death that firefighters face is not burns or entrapment, as one might expect. Instead, the most imminent threat that firefighters face is cardiac-related events such as heart attacks or strokes.
The intensely physically demanding situations that wildland firefighters encounter over long periods can put significant strain on one’s heart and result in health complications over time. As such, it is incredibly important to place a heavy emphasis on cardiovascular fitness when training to get in shape for the upcoming fire season.
Under the FireFit program, firefighters should engage in cardiovascular activity four to six times a week. Depending on their fitness level and where they are in the program, such activity should last between 30 and 60 minutes in duration, with a vigorous intensity of 70 to 85 percent of one’s established target heart rate (THR).
Your heart rate refers to how hard your heart is beating. To calculate your target heart rate for a cardiovascular exercise, start by determining your maximum heart rate, which refers to the limit of what your cardiovascular system can handle concerning how many times your heart beats per minute. You can determine this limit by subtracting your age from 220. To figure out your target heart rate, take your maximum heart rate and multiply it by 0.70 or 0.85. If you are just starting the exercise program, aim for the lower end of the desired heart rate zone.
During the program, make sure to take at least one day of the week to rest. At the start of the program, consider taking three rest days. By the last two weeks, however, try to increase your activity level to five to six cardiovascular sessions per week and incorporate work-specific activities, such as pack hiking.
Muscular strength is also fundamental for carrying out the duties of wildland firefighters. To develop muscular strength, the FireFit program recommends engaging in strength workouts twice a week during the first two weeks. As the program progresses, strength workouts should take place three times per week.
These workouts should involve lifting roughly 70 to 90 percent of one’s maximum strength and completing one to three sets of 8 to 12 repetitions. Between each set, take a one- to two-minute rest. Firefighters should also allow for a 48-hour rest period between strength workouts.
Because they carry heavy packs for hours on end, muscle endurance should also be a priority for wildland firefighters. After developing one’s muscular strength throughout the first six weeks of the program, your routine in the last two weeks should emphasize muscle endurance.
During this time, firefighters should modify their strength workouts to optimize their endurance. Rather than lifting 70 to 90 percent of their maximum strength, they should lift 50 to 70 percent and increase their reps to 12 to 20 while continuing to complete one to three sets. Between sets, they should take a one-minute break. In addition, they should increase their sessions to three to four days a week, rather than two to three.
To optimize mobility and muscle coordination, as well as reduce one’s risk of injury while they’re out on the fire line, flexibility is also a necessary part of any wildland firefighter fitness regime. Before starting a workout, firefighters should engage in a low-level warm-up activity to loosen their muscles. After their workout, they should then perform static stretches, holding each position for roughly 20 to 30 seconds.
As previously mentioned in other sections, rest is also a vital aspect of physical fitness. To prevent injuries and facilitate proper recovery after strenuous exercise, firefighters should give their bodies one to two days of rest per week. During these days, they should engage in either light or no activity.
The Supply Cache seeks to ensure that wildland firefighters have everything they need to accomplish their important duties safely and effectively. As such, we offer a wide range of top-quality wildland firefighter equipment, gear, and apparel. From fire hose backpacks to personal protective equipment, you can find it here from brands you can trust. To learn more about our product offerings, contact us today.