An Examination of the Benefits of Health Promotion for the National Fire Service


Authors: Poston WS1, Haddock CK, Jahnke SA, Jitnarin N, Day RS.
Institution: Center for Fire, Rescue, and EMS Health Research at the National Development and Research Institutes (NDRI), University of Texas Houston Health Sciences Center (UTHHSC)
Funder: FEMA/Assistance to Firefighters Grants - (EMW-2009-FP-01971)


The most prevalent Wellness Approach (WA) program in place today is the Joint Labor-Management Wellness-Fitness Initiative (WFI). This study focuses on purposively selected US fire departments that have implemented WA programs consistent with the WFI, and compared them with selected departments who have no formal WA program..

The study found that firefighters in fire departments with a WA program were healthier than their counterparts in fire departments without WA programs. Firefighters in fire departments with WA demonstrated superior body composition and were less likely to be obese. Additionally, firefighters who participated in WA programs reported significantly higher physical activity, lower expectations for future illness, and were significantly less likely to experience behavioral health issues. However, firefighters in fire departments with WA programs did report a higher prevalence of on-duty injury – mostly likely attributed to increased physical activity and strength training.

While this study gives strength to the body of evidence showing firefighters participating in a WA program are healthier and have higher operational readiness, it also identifies a need for further study regarding injury prevalence amongst firefighters participating in WA programs. Additionally, findings in this study indicate that the majority of the firefighters, even in fire departments with WA programs, did not meet the NFPA minimum post-cardiac event exercise tolerance threshold. Of interest is the finding from both groups showing both were found to have a high prevalence of smokeless tobacco use and binge or heavy drinking.


  1. While this study and others like it demonstrate the importance of a comprehensive WA program in the fire department, the lack of fire departments embracing these programs is troubling. A culture shift amongst both management and labor is needed, and action, not just studies, reports and “initiatives”, is needed.
  2. An epidemic of substandard fitness, obesity and behavioral health issues plague the US fire service. Firefighters who participate in WA programs were leaner, less likely to develop hypertension and other CVD illnesses, and they demonstrated greater endurance, improved operational readiness and greater morale and job satisfaction.
  3. While WA programs have a positive effect on the culture of the fire service, certain behavioral health issues appear to be endemic, regardless of WA programs. Department and municipal leadership, in partnership with labor, must collaborate on further study and action.


Fact Sheet (PDF) Full Study

About the Institutions

ational Development and Research Institutes (NDRI)/Center for Fire, Rescue, and EMS Health Research

The mission of National Development and Research Institutes’ (NDRI) Institute for Biobehavioral Health Research (IBHR) is to conduct innovative interdisciplinary research that explores and involves all factors (e.g., biological, behavioral, social, cultural, and environmental) that may influence or impact the health of individuals, groups, and populations. Our research includes both formative/developmental, observational and intervention studies, primarily in the areas of prevention of cardiovascular disease and cancer, physical fitness and work capacity, tobacco control, and obesity. Investigators at IBHR have a particular focus on health issues among minorities and the underserved, emergency service workers, and military personnel.

University of Texas Houston Health Sciences Center (UTHHSC)

As a comprehensive health science university, the mission of The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston is to educate health science professionals, discover and translate advances in the biomedical and social sciences, and model the best practices in clinical care and public health.