Wellness/Fitness Program Summary

WFI Background

Firefighters respond to emergency incidents that require extreme physical output and often result in physiological and psychological outcomes. Over time, such situations can and do effect the overall wellness of firefighters and the emergency response system. Tomorrow's fire service requires keeping our firefighters fit today. 

The Fire Service Joint Labor Management Task Force created the Wellness/Fitness Initiative (WFI) is to improve quality of life for all firefighters. The project seeks to prove the value of investing wellness resources over time to maintain a fit, healthy and capable firefighter throughout his/her 25-30 + year career and beyond. An effective program should realize significant cost savings in lost work time, worker's compensation and disability.

Physical, mental and emotional fitness requires an effective wellness program available to recruits, active firefighters and retirees. An overall wellness/fitness system must be holistic, positive, rehabilitating and educational. Key issues of the initiative incorporate the following points:

  • Overcome the historically punitive fire service mentality of physical fitness and wellness issues
  • Move beyond negative, timed, task-based performance testing to progressive wellness improvement
  • Require a commitment by labor and management to a positive individualized fitness/wellness program
  • Develop a holistic wellness approach that includes medical, fitness, injury/fitness/medical rehabilitation and behavioral health

The Process

The first phase of this comprehensive project was creating a network of geographically diverse fire departments with excellent union/management relations.

Each selected department is represented by the fire chief and the IAFF local union president, with invitations extended to the department physician, physiologist and/or fitness coordinator. Each department committed to full union/management cooperation on this issue and to making a concerted effort to implement the resulting program.

A complete physical fitness/wellness program was developed in the second phase. Through data collection and analysis, the participating departments created valid baseline data suitable for fire service-wide comparisons.

The final phase was establishing a comprehensive program for distribution to the fire service.

The Mission

Every fire department, in cooperation with its local IAFF affiliate, must develop an overall wellness/fitness system to maintain firefighters physical and mental capabilities. While such a program may be mandatory, agreement to initiate it must be mutual between the administration and its members represented by the local union. Any program of physical fitness must be:

  • Positive and not punitive in design
  • Require mandatory participation by all uniformed personnel in the department once implemented
  • Allow for age, gender and position in the department
  • Allow for on-duty-time participation utilizing facilities provided or arranged by the department
  • Provide for rehabilitation and remedial support for those in need
  • Contain training and education components
  • Be reasonable and equitable to all participants

The program must address the following key points:

  • Confidentiality of behavioral, medical and fitness evaluations
  • To develop a physical fitness and wellness program that is educational and rehabilitative and is not punitive
  • Require a commitment by labor and management to a positive individualized fitness/wellness program
  • Develop a holistic wellness approach that includes:
    • fitness
    • medical
    • rehabilitation
    • behavioral health
    • be long term and where possible, available to retirees

Performance Mission Statement

  • Commitment to develop a performance evaluation for incumbents first, then for candidates.
  • The objectives of the task force performance evaluation are:
    • To develop an instrument used to assess the ability and skills of uniformed personnel to successfully accomplish defined fire ground/emergency tasks.
    • To define sequential fire ground/emergency tasks that would typically occur as part of the first response of fire companies.
    • To define evaluation criteria that emphasizes safety and utilizes practical effectiveness and efficiency (time).
    • To develop evaluation criteria that would be used as part of the assessment of the team and the team member in company assignments.
    • For issues before the task force that do not have unanimous consent, a 2/3 majority vote will be required to proceed on that issue.
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