Often when the subject of firefighter fitness and wellness comes up a commonly repeated complaint is that requiring physical fitness and medical health standards will cause volunteer departments to shut down. Another complaint is that the intentions seem to "tell" a firefighter what he or she should be eating and doing in their off-duty time and that this is an intrusion into their personal lives.

Can the fire service really make a cut in line of duty deaths, especially in the volunteer fire service, by requiring fitness and wellness standards?

The National Volunteer Fire Council (NVFC), thanks to support from the U.S. Fire Administration, has partnered with the HOPE Health Research Institute to conduct a study on obesity in the fire service. With the growing epidemic of obesity throughout the country and in the fire service itself, this study is an important resource for firefighters and EMS personnel to learn more about the causes of the problem and what they can do to reverse this potentially life-threatening trend.

Addressing the Epidemic of Obesity in the United States Fire Service looks at the impact of obesity, the scope of obesity in the fire service, and why obesity has become an epidemic. It then highlights innovative trends in nutrition and fitness that firefighters can utilize and presents recommendations for the fire service for combating obesity and increasing fitness.

Obesity is a major risk factor for potentially life-threatening illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and cholesterol, sleep apnea, and even cancer. Obesity can also have a negative impact on a firefighter’s job performance. With heart attack consistently the leading cause of on-duty firefighter fatalities, and many more first responders facing health-related illness or injury, every first responder should take the subject of obesity in the fire service seriously.

Download Addressing the Epidemic of Obesity in the United States Fire Service to learn more about obesity in the fire service and what you can do to protect yourself and your department.

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these days if you are 5'8 and 170 pounds they call you obese, (the doctor does), i don't think so !!, but thats my opinion!!

Witch doctor?

5'8/170lbs is a BMI of 25.8.  The normal range is considered 18.5-24.9 so a BMI of 25.8 would, at worst be considered slightly overweight.  Overweight is 25-29.9 so if you're 5'8"/200 then you would just tip the scale at obese.  Bear in mind that men and women carry weight differently, both in terms of fat:muscle as well as where the fat is stored.

So if a doctor is calling someone that is 5'8" and weighs 170lbs obese, then that doctor is evaluating the patient on a scale different from the BMI (and appears to be wildly misinformed.)



I have know friends who started as volunteers that if a good breeze came up it would knock them over. Then some of them went to work as career firefighters. and it would take a tornado to move them from all the weight they carry. I know for them they have 30 years of being in the service plus marriage and kids which some will say put the pounds on.

I got caught by my doctor early and put on Lipitor plus told to watch my eating.

When I join the volunteer service I was 18 5'8" and 130 pounds. Today I am in my late 50s and 160 lbs and now administrative and don't ride calls. I am not a super athlete and work at a desk most of the day at my regular job, but I am surprised when I see some of my firends and how large they got to be. Medium to XXLarge or more as firefighters.

Maybe its in their family genes for some of them


BMI is a completely inaccurate measurement of if a person is within proper weight limits, overweight, or obese.  A much better indicator is body fat measurements.  BMI doesn't take into consideration muscle mass, bone mass or other dense tissues.  It only takes into consideration height and weight.  I usually ignore my doctor when he tells me that I'm getting close to overweight.  My BMI is 22-23%, however my body fat hovers between 8% and 9% which is more than healthy.

I would think this study should be a wake up call for ALL firefighters. It can be easy to feign such a thing off, or believe this doesn't affect us, but it does. I was surprised with the study when first reading it too at how you can see examples out there. Yet, it is easy to understand how this has come about and also see "excuses" even here. It is easy to feign off the numbers or results and while muscle is denser than fat and height/weight isn't the best indicator for body fat......the question becomes, Can we keep ignoring it?


In a career firehouse, it is easy to slack off good habits. While one may be more regimental in their eating habits and workouts off duty, things can change in the firehouse. Unless one chooses to cook healthy, let's face it, many firehouse meals are not very good for you.....a firehouse staple...Chili. Another challenge is buying healthy, healthier foods cost more than fattier or processed foods. This can be tough when working on a budget as well as typically limited times to cook. You tend to see meals that can be made quicker as opposed to healthier food prep, which can take more time.


While we do see more depts looking to incorporate workout times or even making equipment available, this is another issue that can be a challenge. It can be easy to attempt to workout, but a challenge to get a good workout in if running calls. Another aspect is that it isn't good to workout to "failure" because one can get a hit at any time and if the job requires you to be 100%, you may not.


While I can understand these issues, they become easy excuses, I use them myself too, yet such a study should be a wake up. What are we doing in the daily lives that can be changed? For us career FFs, what about the house we are at?


Yet, the question here places a focus on volunteers, (but does affect all) and moreso about volly depts conforming to fitness and wellness standards. Can making such requirements cut down on LODDs? In my opinion, yes. While there are many facets facing LODDs than just obesity, establishing a physical fitness program, along with medical screenings, can help to identify potential problems and may even be the first time that some people see a doctor in years. Shouldn't one at least see a doc in the course of their service rather than the day they show up as a Code in the ER?


A physical will also look at more than just height and weight to determine BMI. Although obesity is one aspect and despite obesity, doesn't mean one can't perform the job duties, which is why there should be an investment in personnel, to include more than just "take what you can get". There should be job standards in place in which FFs should be able to do. Standards, in conjunction with physicals, can help to curb LODDs and injuries.........but the priority should be the mirror. Changes start at the personal level and this study places an emphasis which ALL FFs should care about. My goal now is to see these numbers reduced.

While I agree that obesity is a danger to workng this job your example of someone who is 6' 290 does not give enough detail about the person to warrant me saying that I would not want him to rescue me. I have a friend that is 6'8 420lbs and I would love for him to come in on a rescue considering that he just won last years worlds strongest man, I think that he could carry my skinny butt out. Obesity is more than just height and weight, I also needs to factor in body fat precentage, athleticism, heart health, lung capacity and function, and pulmonary funtion. 

Don't judge a book by it's cover, An NFL lineman can probably be calssified as obese, but they are great atthletes.

One habit I have seen a few crews do is to go to or order from fast food places instead of going to a grocery.

Another is drinking sodas and some I have seen are super gulps.

Some will say we didn't have time for starting a regular meal because of the calls we were running.

Volunteer wise they get off work stop at McD's and sitting at the kitchen table in the station to down what they ordered.

Then you go to a restaurant and there is the size of portions you will get for a meal. How often do you take home what you don't finish or push yourself to clean the plate and then have dessert?

Then you have prepared foods in packages and what they contain in fat and items to prepare them. 

NFL players warm up and exercise before challenging their body. Getting up at three in the morning from a sound sleep, dealing with incredibly stressful situations is an entirely different set of risk factors. Like comparing apples and oranges...
Many firefighters take better care of their cars than themselves...


I disagree. In the context that I wrote it in was that you can't say someone is in shape or not strictly from a height and weight measurement. Yes NFL players get to warm up before hand and this means less stress on the heart. My point was noth that our job is stressfull or that it an over abundance of strain on the body. Ivan was saying that a person who is 6' and 290 should not be on a rescue squad because they would be obese and would be a liability, which is not correct that person cold be in great shape while being physically large.

Now don't get me wrong I feel that obesity is a problem in this country and in the fire service, and that physical standars need to be set and followed by departments. I know of a lot of firefighters that are overwieght and out of shape. My point was simply that judging someone's physical fitness level is more than just height and weight.


As a rule of thumb, a BMI between 18 and 25 is healthy.

But someone who is very fit and muscular could have a BMI greater than 25 which would suggest, incorrectly, that they were overweight.

Conversely, someone who has a petite frame might fall below 18 but still be healthy.

If the firefighter in question weighs 290 pounds and has no body fat, no gut and can walk one-mile in 15 minutes or not get out of breath walking up stairs, then chances are pretty good that they are fit and healthy.

So, I agree with you that judging that someone's level of physical fitness level is indeed more than just height and weight. Stress EKG's and blood work for cholesterol, triglycerides and such are more definitive measures of the level of fitness and health involved.

With that said, look at the number of firefighters that drop dead while working out or actively involved in firefighting. The stressors of our job does take it's toll, totally justifying complete physicals every year for all firefighters, regardless whether they "look" in good shape or not. Genetics and the environment you live and work in are a major factor here.

I couldn't agree more Capt.

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