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Chad Roberson Named Interim Director of Training

Friday, March 29, 2019

“My drive is to help us get better.”
Growing up in a small northern Louisiana town, Chad Roberson admits he was “around the fire service a lot.” His father was a volunteer firefighter and from a young age, Chad understood what a life of service looked like. From age 16, Chad served as a volunteer firefighter at the same department where his father worked. After earning his bachelor’s degree from Louisiana State University, Chad became a full-time firefighter with the St. George Fire Protection District.

Chad excelled in the Fire District, working his way up to Captain, District Chief, and eventually Assistant Chief – the role he serves today. He also returned to school for two additional degrees: an associate degree in Fire Science from Louisiana State University and a Masters in Executive Fire Service Leadership from Grand Canyon University.

Chad’s first introduction to Roco Rescue was as a student in the mid-1990s, when he took a training course funded by his fire department. After taking a few more courses, his instructors invited him to apply for a job, and he began his career journey with Roco Rescue working part-time on one of the company’s contracted safety and rescue teams.

In 2001, Chad completed an instructor development course and has been teaching for Roco Rescue ever since. In 2007, he was promoted to Chief Instructor and now serves as the Interim Director of Training.

A Career Steeped in Service
In his role at Roco Rescue, Chad draws heavily from his experience with the St. George Fire Protection District, where he leads technical rescue operations, manages vehicle, trench, structural collapse, rope, confined space, flood water, and boat rescue, as well as hazardous materials training. His exposure to technical rescue on the municipal side has benefitted his work at Roco Rescue. In his new role as Interim Director of Training he oversees all aspects of the training program, including instructor recruitment and development, curriculum updates, assessment and evaluation of both new equipment and new rescue techniques, and modifications to the Roco Training Center. He also spends a significant amount of time speaking with customers about course content, private training and custom classes.

His experience with the Fire District has also enhanced his people management skills. “When it comes down to managing people, it doesn’t matter what industry you’re in,” he says. “Management, leadership and supervision all go hand in hand. I’ve had a number of great mentors and role models, and the things I’ve learned at the fire department have been very useful to me at Roco Rescue, and vice versa.”

It is especially important, he says, to develop the ability to teach to a broad range of learning styles. “Everybody has a different learning style,” he says. “To be a successful instructor you have to understand this and be able to step back and think of different approaches; you’ve got to be versatile in your communication style and method.”

"Our instructors at Roco Rescue are especially skilled at recognizing and adapting to each student’s learning style,” says Chad, “and this is a key factor that sets us apart. It exemplifies how we care about our students and work hard to help them become great rescuers. It starts at the top, with the leadership style and the example Miss Kay sets. We treat everyone like family, whether we are training a team, doing a refresher course for a long-time customer, or providing a service at an industrial plant.”

Chad also cites the instructors’ willingness to encourage students to problem-solve and be versatile in their approach to performing a rescue, as something that differentiates Roco Rescue. “There are multiple ways to get things done,” he says. “There is no one correct way to do a rescue. But you need to make sure it’s an efficient process. We tell our students, ‘this is just one way to get it done.’ That sets us apart as a company as well.”

His “Why”
When asked why he has devoted his entire career to rescue, Chad’s answer is simple. “My drive is to help us get better,” he says.

“In Louisiana, we’ve seen so many natural disasters. And when that happens, you really see the areas for improvement and the need to help people out. Managing the incidents and being involved in process improvement to make rescues more successful and efficient – that’s my drive.”

What’s Ahead
Currently Chad’s priority is to expand Roco Rescue’s instructor base; a large part of his time is spent implementing strategies to search for and train the best of the best to join the team. He will also be playing a significant role in planning the annual Roco Rescue Challenge, a team performance evaluation in which rescuers put their skills to the test in a variety of realistic, hands-on scenarios.  

Keeping up to date on developments in rescue technology and evaluating equipment to ensure it is optimized for both comfort and safety is one of the most critical parts of his job. “Technology is driving just about every industry worldwide, and it’s no different in the rescue business or with the equipment we use,” he says. 

Finally, he is excited about finding new and better ways to listen to the voice of the customer in order to keep improving everything Roco does. 

Chad is trained extensively in executive leadership and planning, technical rescue operations, hazardous materials management, and more. He holds a COSS (Certified Occupational Safety Specialist) certification and a CFO (Chief Fire Officer designation). He is a certified EMT and is certified by the American Heart Association in Basic Life Support. He received accolades from the St. George Fire Protection District as Chief Officer of the Year in 2016 and a Unit Commendation Award in 2014. He is also a sought-after speaker, having presented at first responder training conferences nationwide, and his work has been published in a variety of national publications.

In his spare time, Chad enjoys spending time with his two young sons, coaching their basketball teams, and taking them on trips to visit family. He attends St. Jude Catholic Church in Baton Rouge, and he is a big fan of the LSU Tigers.
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Rescuing the Rescuer: When Things Go Wrong During a Rescue

Friday, February 15, 2019
by Brad Warr, Chief Instructor

The day before 40-year-old Phoenix firefighter Brett Tarver got separated from his crew and ran out of air at the Southwest Supermarket fire, the fire service felt confident in its ability to rescue a downed firefighter. That all changed when Tarver was found unresponsive thirty minutes after his mayday was broadcast over the radio. The tragic loss of Brett Tarver on March 14, 2001, left the firefighting community wondering what it had missed.

The ensuing years of self-examination and evaluation of rapid intervention techniques and operating procedures resulted in the development of NFPA 1407: Standard for Training Fire Service Rapid Intervention Crews.

Released on December 5, 2009, the document provided a framework for fire departments to train, equip and deploy their personnel in the event of mayday. A decade later, firefighters are more prepared than at any time in history to launch a rescue operation when a brother or sister firefighter calls that mayday.

While firefighter rapid intervention techniques have continued to improve, confined space rapid intervention has not received quite as much analysis and focus for improving techniques and guidelines, despite the fact that more than 60% of confined space fatalities occur among would-be rescuers. Perhaps this is why Roco Rescue’s course “Rescuing the Rescuer: When Things Go Wrong During a Rescue”, which is being offered at the North Dakota Safety Council’s (NDSC) upcoming 2019 Annual Safety & Health Conference, sold out in a matter of days. The industry – whether they are firefighters, emergency responders, or industrial workers, recognizes the vital importance of a subject that is truly a matter of life or death.

About the Course
Taking lessons learned from both successful and unsuccessful rescues of downed firefighters, students attending “Rescuing the Rescuer” will apply those lessons to the world of confined space rescue. The day-long session will bring together rescuers of all experience levels seeking strategies for effectively responding to what nearly everyone agrees is the most stressful call a rescuer will ever receive.

The course will emphasize the following:

    • - Having a plan before something goes wrong is the only chance you have.
    • - Simple systems are easier to use in a stressful situation than complex systems.
    • - There are no systems that can replace a clear-thinking, highly-trained rescue technician.

While NFPA 1407 gives a clear picture of the responsibilities of a firefighter during a mayday, the picture is not nearly as clear for rescuers responding to the mayday call or loss of contact with a rescuer inside a confined space. The sometimes-murky relationship between OSHA and NFPA standards will be explored including a review of both the construction and general industry OSHA confined space standards (1926 Subpart AA and 1910.146).

Tackling a Rarely-Explored Topic

Although training for a downed rescuer is a topic that is rarely visited in rescue training due to time constraints and the extensive requirements rescue technicians already must meet in order to carry their title, Roco Rescue believes it is a topic that shouldn’t be overlooked. The popularity of the course in North Dakota demonstrates that this is a subject of extreme interest to the safety industry.

This is the first time Roco Rescue has offered the course in this format, but it most likely won’t be the last. Subscribe to our newsletter to be the first to learn about new course offerings. Safety professionals interested in this training who are unable to attend the sold-out course in North Dakota may also wish to explore Roco Rescue’s advanced tech level course, FAST-TRACK 120™.

Rescuer fatalities have declined in recent years, but they aren’t declining quickly enough. Let’s do our part to ensure that workers in the safety and rescue fields make it home to see their families when their work is done.

Brad Warr is a Chief Instructor for Roco Rescue and a Captain at the Nampa Fire Department. Brad joined Roco Rescue in 2003, teaching a wide variety of technical rescue classes including rope rescue, confined space rescue, trench rescue, and structural collapse. Brad became a firefighter for the Nampa Fire Department in 1998 and was promoted to Captain in 2006. Before joining the fire department, Brad worked for three years as an Emergency Response Technician for a large computer chip manufacturer in Boise, Idaho, where he was responsible for OSHA compliance, emergency medical response, confined space/rope rescue response and hazardous materials response.

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The Importance of Trench/Excavation Safety: A Conversation with Roco Rescue Chief Instructor Tim Robson

Thursday, February 14, 2019


Tim Robson’s involvement with trench rescue started in 1994 when his technical rescue team from the Albuquerque Fire Department responded to what the dispatcher called a trench event.

“When we arrived on the scene, no one was there other than a police officer and a grandmother,” Tim recalls. “She couldn’t find her grandson.”

A company doing trench work in front of her home had offered to pay the woman’s teenage grandson hourly to help them. The teenager was inside the trench when it collapsed.


“The company left, and they left him in the trench,” Tim explains. “Unfortunately, it was a fatality. When we found him, he had already succumbed.”

As a result of that experience, Tim understands firsthand the risks involved in trench work and the importance of trench safety. Now, Tim supervises Roco Rescue’s technical rescue teams across the globe and, as a Chief Instructor, leads training courses in – among other things – trench rescue.

Tim is presenting a course on “Managing Excavations” at the North Dakota Safety Council’s 46th Annual Safety & Health Conference later this month. We sat down to talk with Tim recently to find out more about trench safety and why it’s so important.

Roco Rescue: Good afternoon, Tim, and thank you for talking with us today about trench/excavation safety. Let’s start with the overarching question: How dangerous is trench work?

Tim:  Trenching/excavation is one of the major fatality-causing occupations in the U.S. right now, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Of the 130 trench/excavation fatalities that occurred between 2001 and 2016, 80% of those occurred in the private construction industry.

What scares us even more is that the number of fatalities is trending up. In 2014, there were 13 fatalities in trench/excavation. In 2015, that number rose to 25. And in 2016, there were 36 fatalities. So nearly half of the fatalities that occurred over a fifteen-year period happened in 2015 and 2016. Despite the fact that the regulations have gotten stricter, the numbers are trending up.  


Roco Rescue: We’re going to touch on the OSHA regulations in a moment. First, please explain why the number of fatalities is trending upwards.

Tim: The increase in fatalities goes hand in hand with the uptick in employment and construction; as the economy improves, there’s more construction and, with that, more trenching and excavation.

In addition to more construction, there’s less space. As a country, we’re building more roads, more buildings, and more infrastructure but we have less physical space to do it in.

And in addition to doing more construction in less space, in our world, we have to do more with less. Ten years ago, there were six people working on a construction trenching job; today, there are 4, and that naturally lends itself to more safety violations.

Roco Rescue: What makes trenches so dangerous?

Tim: First, let me explain the difference between a trench and an excavation: an excavation is wider than it is deep, meaning there’s less chance of dirt collapsing because the vertical walls of the trench are sloping. If my wall slopes away from the bottom of the hole I dug, there’s less chance of that wall falling in.

A trench, on the other hand, is deeper than it is wide. If I have to dig a trench with a perfectly vertical wall, because there’s a road right next to where I’m digging the trench, I can almost guarantee a collapse.

To give readers an idea of the physics and mechanics involved when soil collapses, I often use this analogy: A typical collapse involves a couple of yards of dirt. A couple of yards of dirt collapsing into a 6-foot deep trench has the same force as a pickup truck moving 45 miles an hour. If you’re at the bottom of the trench and the soil falls in on you from 6 feet, you’re getting hit with the same amount of force as a pickup truck traveling 45 miles per hour.

When that force hits you, you can’t survive. And that’s just the force. There’s also the compression and blocked airways that the victim experiences. Every time you take a breath, the soil gets closer to your body so now it’s compressing you and you’re not able to expand your chest wall.

That’s why this is such a big concern for OSHA.

Roco Rescue: Let’s talk more about the OSHA regulations. What is OSHA doing to help reduce the number of fatalities caused by trench collapse?

Tim: Last year, OSHA put out a compliance letter urging the construction industry to improve the safety of their trenching and excavation operations.

OSHA requires that any time someone makes an excavation or trench in the ground as part of their occupation, they have to designate what’s called a competent person. That’s usually someone in a management or supervisory position who is tasked with “identifying existing and predictable hazards in the surroundings, or working conditions which are unsanitary, hazardous, or dangerous to employees, and who has authorization to take prompt corrective measures to eliminate them.”

Roco Rescue: Besides designating a competent person, what precautions can supervisors take at work sites to reduce trench injuries/fatalities, and what can workers do to keep themselves safe?


Tim: Construction businesses have to meet the OSHA requirements for trench and excavation safety. To make the trench safe takes more time, more manpower and more labor. Ultimately, safety costs money, which is a challenge for small business in particular.

But the implications for failing to meet the requirements comes with an even bigger cost. Worker safety notwithstanding, the Department of Labor and the Department of Justice now agree that if a fatality occurs on a job site due to a willful violation of an employer, it is now a criminal act.

However, workers are equally responsible for their safety. They are also accountable for their actions. If a trained worker willfully gets into that trench, knowing it’s unprotected, they’re just as culpable as the company that put them there.

In short, the employer’s responsibility is to make sure individuals are trained at work and the employee’s responsibility to understand and follow those requirements.

Roco Rescue: What are three things attendees at your upcoming course at the NDSC Annual Conference can expect to take away from your presentation?

Tim: First, don’t take trench and excavation lightly. There’s a risk that comes with saying, “We’ve always done it this way.”

Second, they’ll leave with an understanding of OSHA’s trench/excavation competent person requirements.

Third, they’ll understand the requirements of AHJ (the authority having jurisdiction), which is generally the host employer. The AHJ is the entity that must deem someone a competent person. As an instructor, I don’t have that authority. Taking my class doesn’t qualify someone as a competent person.

Roco Rescue: How will the course you’re giving at the NDSC Annual Conference differ from Roco Rescue’s training courses in trench rescue?

Tim: At the Roco Training Center, we offer open enrollment courses in trench rescue and can even do a private training based on a specific industry. Our courses teach how to construct a trench so that it won’t collapse and, if it does collapse because of some catastrophic event, teaches workers ways to protect themselves.

Both the courses at the Roco Training Center and my course at the NDSC Annual Conference are focused on compliance, but the course at the NDSC is geared toward a broader audience.

Roco Rescue: What’s your final piece of advice for trench workers, Tim?

Tim: It’s simple: until you know it’s safe, don’t get in the trench.

Roco Rescue: Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge and expertise with us, Tim.

For more information about Roco Rescue’s open enrollment or private training courses in trench safety and trench competent person, check out our training options.


Tim Robson is a chief instructor and the New Mexico CSRT Director for Roco Rescue, Inc. As a chief instructor, he teaches a wide variety of technical rescue classes and has been instrumental in the development of our Trench & Structural Collapse Rescue programs. In his role as a CSRT Director, he leads our on-site rescue and safety services, from rescue stand-bys to confined space program management to leading safety meetings and the list goes on. Prior to joining Roco in 1996, he served in the US Marine Corps as a Rescue Diver/Swimmer, at the Albuquerque Fire Department, and as a Rescue Squad Officer for FEMA’s New Mexico Task Force 1, participating in several deployments for FEMA, including the Pentagon following the Sept. 11th attacks.

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Behind the Scenes of Seattle’s New Fitness Program for Firefighters Q&A with Lieutenant Frank Brennan

Wednesday, January 16, 2019
by Pat Furr, Safety Officer & VPP Coordinator 

Welcome readers to the first installment of “Roco Chats with the Experts”. My name is Pat Furr and today we are honored to have Lieutenant Frank Brennan of the Seattle Fire Department share his thoughts on the importance of technical rescuers being physically fit.

In this article, you’ll learn about a new physical fitness training program implemented by the technical rescue company at the Seattle Fire Department, and ideas that may help you start a fitness program with your own team – whether you’re a municipal firefighter or a member of an emergency response or firefighting team at an industrial facility.

Frank has been with the fire department in Seattle, Washington for 27 years and has spent all but a few years of that time on the rescue company. The rescue company is trained and equipped to provide public safety dive, tunnel and rebreather, tower, rope rescue, structural collapse, trench, confined space, commercial and machinery entrapment rescue. The company cadre also delivers structural collapse training to the three-county area. Frank sits on the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) Technical Committees (1006 and 1670), the bodies that set standards for firefighter training and safety, and he was directly involved with the recent revisions to these standards. He is also a Rescue Team Manager on WATF-1 USAR Task Force and is a member of the Seattle FD Aviation Team.

When I asked Frank if he would consider contributing to our inaugural “Chat with the Experts” he enthusiastically agreed but with one point of clarification, and that is, he doesn’t consider himself an expert. So, I will attest to the fact that Frank is a lifelong student of his trade and is a true craftsman.

Pat Furr: Welcome Frank, and thank you for taking the time to discuss this topic with us. In my 38 years of being involved with various types of technical rescue, it is obvious to me that there are several elements that make a great rescuer and rescue team. First and foremost is quality training, both initial and continuing training specific to the type of rescue that may be required. Then there is equipment selection, and we both know that there are numerous tools available to today’s rescuers.

But one thing that I am afraid gets overlooked is the overall physical fitness of our rescuers. I’ve always had the philosophy that when we show up to the scene of a rescue, we are assets. I do not want to have any deficiencies that would cause my value as an asset to become a liability. That applies to training, leadership, and equipment, but in several cases, it may be due to a lack of physical fitness. Do you see any signs that some rescuers may not be as fit perhaps as they should be?

Frank Brennan: Pat, it’s hard to speak for anyone else, but I know that I personally have come up against the hard realities of the expectation/performance gap. I think task-specific physical, psychological and emotional conditioning may be the most challenging components of our job. In some way every manipulative training session should provide some insight to where you are in the scale of personal preparation, so ideally every session would require the humility to stare into that gap. So yes, I would say sometimes I see a wider gap than I am comfortable with, both in myself and others.

PF: One thing that we sometimes forget is that technical rescues can be quite taxing physically. Not just the strength and endurance that may be required, but also our tolerance to heat and other physical and emotional stressors. I think this is proven by the high rate of fatalities due to cardiac events amongst our firefighters and rescuers, both during actual responses and also during training.

FB: You have touched on a core issue of firefighter/rescuer health and safety. While I am most familiar with the information associated with the fire service based rescue model, I think the findings would extend to the entire community of rescuers serving the public.

The combination of chemical responses to the multiple external stressors places demands on the inner workings of our physiology that we don't always appreciate. Our training should extend beyond our ability to simply master a skill; it should help us master the delivery of the skill in the predicted environment. Just as we provide tools to rescuers in training to perform a task, we should leverage the training to give rescuers tools to measure and build their ability to master their emotional, psychological and physiological response to performing the skill in a demanding, but controlled environment.

Our training should extend beyond our ability to simply master a skill; it should help us master the delivery of the skill in the predicted environment.
As it stands now we are frequently guilty of leaving our people on their own to sort this out, often with the risk of stigma from identifying gaps in their performance they want to close. We are prone to overlook the obvious and make assumptions that are unhealthy or are not data-driven. As an example, we recently had a discussion revolving around the need for rescuing firefighters from burning buildings. Our training scenarios often focus on out-of-air emergencies or entrapment, which are of course important considerations, but we tend to overlook the leading cause which is a cardiac event. We realized that we hadn't really closely considered it as a component of the risk/reward profile of our actions. What are the needs? How do our predicted actions fill the need?

In this case, it has resulted in including drills to initiate CPR as early as possible and sustain it through the entire process of disrobing the downed firefighter after removal from the building. Which turns out is harder than you might think unless you are practiced in it. This discussion has also contributed to a heightened awareness of cardiac events and prevention efforts.

PF: I understand that your department has instituted a new program to encourage better overall physical fitness. Would you care to share a little about that program, what seems to work best and the successes you may have already seen?

FB: Well it’s just inside the rescue company right now, although we have a department and a union that places a strong emphasis on health and wellness, so it’s fertile ground.

I personally had to start with managing expectations. I have come to realize that a physical conditioning program built around long, grueling workouts at the firehouse would not be successful in the long term. There simply is not enough free time during the shift and the scheduling of the shifts is not frequent enough to really improve or condition anyone.
There are additional complications of having to perform at an emergency, and real conditioning while on duty would take people to a place that might undermine their ability to perform at an incident during the shift. Not to mention that the fitness plan is subject to the competing and ever-changing schedule of the day. So, the thought was to move towards shifting culture and awareness. I wanted the members of the crew to have an opportunity to examine their own capabilities and use this examination as a gauge for their personal plan away from the station. I was lucky enough to have Chris Stone as a new member of my crew who was experienced as an athlete, peer fitness trainer and had developed and implemented corporate training plans in his prior career. His insight and experience allowed us to implement a plan that met my criteria:

  1. That it places an emphasis on fitness - in this case, we make it part of our morning routine. Instead of showing up with shiny shoes and pressed trousers at roll call, we have the folks show up in PT gear. It helps send a message about what is important - uniforms have a place, but they won’t extend your life or enhance your capacity to perform.
  2. That it be functional - our program sticks to functional moves that relate to tasks we might be expected to perform. Typically, big muscle groups, tire flip, rowing, deadlift, drags, swings etc...
  3. That it be inclusive - we wanted it to be a crew activity, a workout that brought a sense of community or however you would like to describe it.
  4. That it prepares us for the day - it needed to warm us up, but also allow us to gauge where we were that particular day, physically. It shouldn't be so hard that we are tapped out afterward, but it sets the tone that our ability to perform physically is key to service delivery, both on that particular day as well as in the long career ahead of us.
  5. That it be accessible - there is always the issue of performance anxiety when working in a group. The program needed to be structured so it could allow people to engage it where they were without feeling they were under the microscope. In our case, we tend to stick to a Tabata or rotating timed station model where each member can do the number of reps that they are comfortable with.
  6. That it be sustainable - again, this is all about managing expectations and setting achievable goals. If we try to do too much it dies under its own weight. We keep it to a half hour or so of simple, easily implemented exercises.
  7. That it be credible - this is closely related to sustainability, but you have to be willing to commit to it. Make it as important as putting diesel in the rig. The combination of all these elements contributes to the credibility of the program. For me, the biggest validation is that the crew continued the workouts while I was gone on vacation for a month. It's THEIR or OUR workout - NOT my program...
PF: I am a big believer in positive reinforcement and peer encouragement. I know through personal experience that it is difficult to get into the habit of exercising regularly, and it is just as tough to eat the right things. Do you feel there is value in a program that gradually builds better habits versus one that jumps in full throttle right from the start? And do you have any advice to help encourage our peers to stick with it?

FB: You have hit the nail on the head. What is often seen as an obstacle can be leveraged as an asset. Every crew is different, so it’s hard to have a set formula. The key is to let the work drive the workout. If you drill regularly on the functional elements of the job, it’s easy for people to draw the line between the preparation and the performance. With a few exceptions, solo programs are much more fragile. Whether it’s an individual relying on themselves for motivation and direction for a workout routine or framing physical fitness without the context of how it impacts the work, there is little redundancy or depth.

PF: Thank you so much, Frank. You have made several valuable points and I think a couple of the most valuable ones are to make the connection between physical preparation and the performance requirements of the job. That point alone holds a lot of value. Also, I really like the idea of a program that revolves around timed stations where each individual does as many reps as they feel comfortable with. This isn’t a competition but will give each individual a gauge as to where their personal fitness is currently and will give them a goal to aim for. All great stuff, Frank.

Make the connection between physical preparation and the performance requirements of the job.
Well, that wraps up our first installment of “Roco Rescue Chats with the Experts,” and what a start having someone like Lieutenant Frank Brennan as our inaugural guest. Thanks once again, Frank, and I hope you can come back and speak with us again in the future.

Pat Furr is a chief instructor, technical consultant, VPP Coordinator and Corporate Safety Officer for Roco Rescue, Inc. As a chief instructor, he teaches a wide variety of technical rescue classes including Fall Protection, Rope Access, Tower Work/Rescue and Suspended Worker Rescue. In his role as technical consultant, he is involved in research and development, writing articles, and presenting at national conferences. He is also a member of the NFPA 1006 Technical Rescue Personnel Professional Qualifications Standard. Prior to joining Roco in 2000, he served 20 years in the US Air Force as a Pararescueman (PJ).

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Rescuer Physical Fitness: Making It Happen

Wednesday, January 09, 2019
by Pat Furr, Safety Officer & VPP Coordinator 

In Part I of this article, you heard my point of view on a rescuer’s obligation to be physically fit. In this follow-up piece, I outline concrete ideas to help you reach your fitness goals, broken into three components of wellness: exercise, diet, and lifestyle.

First Responder Fitness
Before you do anything else you should assess your own fitness level. Those of you that think that you could be a bit, or maybe a lot, fitter, I have some basic suggestions to offer you. Those of you who are fit and plan on maintaining that fitness, great! Keep up the good work!


For those of you who are not in good shape and, perhaps, feel there isn’t enough time in the day to do anything about it, I sincerely hope you’ll reconsider and keep reading to see that it really doesn’t take much at all to make a positive change. And this change can be like a railroad locomotive; it may start slowly, but as momentum increases, so does the rate of positive change.

Here are my favorite tips that are simple to incorporate right now into your routine so you can start to look, feel, and perform better.

Exercise Tip #1: Set your alarm and stretch.
If you are like many people, you probably set your alarm to give you just enough time to get up, get dressed, eat, and head out the door, sometimes finishing that last bite of breakfast as you are driving to work. Here’s a little tip: Set the alarm fifteen minutes earlier.
This accomplishes several things:

• Getting up fifteen minutes earlier gives you time to do some slow, easy stretching.
• If you start your day with a morning stretch, that is a good base to build on. As you gain strength, you can eventually work in some pushups and crunches.
• Getting up earlier gives you a buffer before you start your work day, eliminating that stressful feeling of cutting your timing too close. Wouldn’t it be nice to start the day with less stress and that certain physical feeling of already having accomplished something before the workday even begins?

Give this a try for one week. What do you have to lose, other than some stress and maybe a few pounds?

Exercise Tip #2: Take the stairs.
Do you use the elevator to go up one, two, or three floors? My bet is that in the time you wait for the elevator and all the stops you make, it would be nearly as fast to take the stairs. After getting into the stairs-over-elevator habit, you may find yourself going for five, then six, seven, or even ten stories.

If we are talking 20 stories or more, then yeah, I’ll give you a pass.

Exercise Tip #3: Build in some cardio.
You don’t need to hire a personal trainer or even join a gym to get into really good shape. Look no further than the oldest cardio option known to man: running. For those of us with bad knees or other ailments that prevent running, other options include brisk walking, rollerblading, swimming, biking, and even dancing will burn off some of that extra weight.

Try a variety of activities that get your blood pumping! Maybe you’ll find there’s one thing you really get into, or maybe you prefer to mix it up. Point is, make a commitment to do something. It will be uncomfortable and there will be days when you want to skip your exercise time, so consider these two things that might help you out… accountability and distraction.

Accountability might mean you publicly declare your fitness goals to friends, family, and Facebook if that’s what it takes to keep you on track. A training partner can also provide accountability as you won’t want to let your partner down by skipping your workout. A training partner can also provide a distraction – it always helps to have someone running alongside you to talk with. Or maybe listening to music or podcasts help distract you; whatever might help you focus on something other than that voice in your head asking you to stop.

I am fortunate to live near several lakes and I have taken up rowing for my no-impact aerobic workout. Talk about involving nearly every muscle group along with the heart and lungs! This is one of the best calorie burners I have ever known, and the beauty is I am out on the lake at sunrise with the loons, ospreys, and eagles, the odd deer, turkey, fox, or mink on the shoreline, just enjoying the view of the mountains.

Exercise Tip #4: Seek out resources.
There are many resources available to us first responders, especially firefighters, who are looking to get fit. The 555 Fitness website has great lists of workouts, and if you follow them on Instagram you’ll get a new workout idea every day. The Firefighter Fitness Page offers a treasure trove of fitness tips and simple workout ideas that will fit right into your busy schedule.

Healthy Diet Tips for First Responders
Getting and staying fit isn’t just about working out, but also what we put in our mouths every single day. There is a lot of truth to the old saying “you are what you eat.” I’ll be the first to admit I love a chili cheeseburger and fries (chased with a big bowl of ice cream, of course), but I am fortunate to have an amateur nutritionist in the house who mandates adherence to a grocery list full of heart-healthy items.

Changing what we choose to eat is just a matter of education and some simple strategies, but don’t try to make wholesale changes overnight. It is best to develop habits that you can build slowly over time.

Food Tip #1: Make a grocery list.
Radical diet changes almost always fail. Instead of jumping on the next bandwagon diet, resolve to make – and stick to – grocery lists full of items that are good for you, rather than “winging it” and running to McDonald's on your way home from work every day. When it comes to eating well, the old adage holds true: failing to plan means planning to fail.

The key to keeping a healthy diet is to do just a bit of research on the sort of foods that should go onto your list. The good news is there are plenty of resources to help guide you, like this list of healthy food options to help first responders perform better.

The next time you visit the grocery store, pay attention to the layout. I’ll bet you will notice that the healthy items tend to be on the outer perimeter of the store and the less healthy items are in the middle aisles. For example, if you are looking for nuts, see if there are choices near, or in, the produce section on the edge of the store. Then compare the nuts in the bins or light packaging to the choice of nuts on the snack aisle. The nuts from the produce section will likely have few or no additives, whereas the nuts from the snack aisle will be loaded with oils and all sorts of hard-to-pronounce ingredients.

Food Tip #2: Read labels.
Always assess your food for its nutritional quality. Limit, or better yet, flat-out avoid processed foods and packaged items with long lists of ingredients on the label. The fewer the ingredients on the label, generally the healthier the item will be. Also, go easy on the carbs. Most of us love pasta in all its forms, but there are alternatives to pasta that taste great using the same marinara sauce or whatever your favorite topping may be. Consider couscous or quinoa as a pasta alternative.

Don’t worry too much about the few fun and tasty items that still manage to make it onto your list. Even some junk-food snacks are acceptable from time to time. We are human, after all, right? Just be sure that they are special treats and not a daily indulgence!

Food Tip #3: Commit to the long haul.
This is where the rubber meets the road. Stick to your list! Go shopping after you’ve eaten, not when you are starving and craving processed snacks like cookies or chips. Shopping on an empty stomach spells trouble for most of us.

Remember that the best “diet” is the one that fits your lifestyle. Focus on eating meals loaded with nutrients, and don’t stress if you deviate from time to time. If you set an unattainable standard at the outset, you are less likely to stick with it.

Cultivating Healthy Lifestyle Habits
Committing to getting and staying fit so that you can perform well and live long is about a comprehensive lifestyle change. This means not only that we have to shop smarter and build in more time to move our bodies, but also that we need to stave off stress by sleeping enough, planning ahead, and not using travel as an excuse to deviate from our goals.

Lifestyle Tip #1: Get enough sleep.
First of all, we need to get enough sleep. A report from the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) called The Effects of Sleep Deprivation on Fire Fighters and EMS Responders found that sleep deprivation affects our attentiveness levels, our mental functioning, and our energy, and it can lead to health issues like obesity and cardiovascular disease.

With our long and strenuous work hours and the stress involved in our jobs, this can be extremely dangerous to our health. It is critical to sleep enough in addition to eating right and exercising to protect ourselves from life-threatening health problems.

Ok, but how? Try setting an alarm for your bedtime. If you’re the sort of person that puts off bedtime because you’re trying to finish up a few things you’ve been working on, try putting those things on a list. That way you won’t worry about forgetting them, and you can tackle them fresh the next day.

Lifestyle Tip #2: Stick to healthy travel habits.
Traveling disrupts our routines, and unless you stay in a suite with a well-equipped kitchen, the meal choices are limited to restaurant offerings and complimentary hotel breakfasts.

It is tough to resist the fancy menu photos and the aroma of restaurants but make a promise to yourself that you will follow the guidelines for the vast majority of your meals out. It isn’t the end of the world if you slip now and then, especially if you are traveling with a group. It is nice to get together socially and have a nice meal, but make that the exception, not the norm.

Most hotel rooms are equipped with a drip coffee maker and a microwave oven. For a healthy breakfast, scoop some servings of oatmeal into Ziploc bags before leaving home. Mix in some cinnamon and chopped nuts, or grab an apple once you arrive at your destination and chop it up for some added flavor and vitamins. Consider making a quick stop at the grocery store to buy some Greek yogurt and fruit like strawberries, blueberries or bananas. Mix them together for a high protein breakfast loaded with vitamins. If your work frequently has you dining on the road, here is a resource to help you make healthier choices.

As far as your workout routine is concerned, remember that the time before work starts is yours. If you get into the habit when you’re at home of doing some stretching and basic calisthenics first thing in the morning, it will be much easier to do the same thing before showering and heading out of your hotel room. If you have a say in your lodging arrangements, try to find a hotel with either a well-equipped fitness center or one that has an arrangement with a local gym. If you travel to the same locations repeatedly, find the lodging that best fits your needs.

I hope you feel, as I do, that we all benefit from being fit. We feel better about ourselves. We are less prone to injury. We are less stressed. And most importantly of all, we are able to perform better and serve our rescue subjects well. I hope that in reading this you can take some or all of these tips, or even expand upon them, and start heading in a direction of improved fitness in the new year and beyond.

Pat Furr is a chief instructor, technical consultant, VPP Coordinator and Corporate Safety Officer for Roco Rescue, Inc. As a chief instructor, he teaches a wide variety of technical rescue classes including Fall Protection, Rope Access, Tower Work/Rescue and Suspended Worker Rescue. In his role as technical consultant, he is involved in research and development, writing articles, and presenting at national conferences. He is also a member of the NFPA 1006 Technical Rescue Personnel Professional Qualifications Standard. Prior to joining Roco in 2000, he served 20 years in the US Air Force as a Pararescueman (PJ).

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