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Anthony

Anthony Walker

Year of Award: 2016 Award State: Australian Capital Territory Emergency Services > Fire And Rescue
Health And Medicine > Occupational Health And Safety
The ACT Government David Balfour Churchill Fellowship to establish best practice models for firefighter peer-led workplace health and fitness programs - USA, Netherlands, Italy, UK
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Conclusions and Recommendations

Based on the site visits, interviews and meetings conducted throughout my Fellowship, I recommend that consideration be given to the following. For any peer-led physical training programs to be effective in firefighting and other tactical populations, a systematic approach must be taken. As such, I recommend that the following sequence be considered as fire services in Australia move towards the implementation of strength and conditioning programs, with a view to maximizing the health and wellbeing of operators. A strategic approach, in the model of elite sports teams, with a “human performance manager” should be considered. This person must have the requisite skills and understanding of the risks and benefits specific to fire services.

  1. Find an executive champion of change: No program will work without a champion at the highest levels of the organization. Where programs have failed to have impact, no significant buy-in from senior officers has occurred. For those such as Lancashire Fire, Kentucky Law Enforcement and Brandweer, the driving force was from senior leaders who both facilitated the program but, just as importantly supported its natural development within the service.
  2. Select the right staff when recruiting: You can’t expect individuals to survive a long career within such a physically demanding occupation if you don’t select those who are most likely to succeed through evidence based physical testing. We need to consider the implications of “morally defensible” standards to ensure that everyone has the greatest chance to have a long, productive career. Above all else, reduced standards increase the risk of injury, but also decrease the effectiveness of the fire service to deliver its primary roles.
  3. Get buy in from all stakeholders: When developing a fit-for-duty program, it is critical that all stakeholders are involved at all stages. For the British fire service, the path to fitness testing and peer-led programming came about through engaging with everyone in the service. While different players have different motivations, ultimately when everyone feels valued and is kept fully informed, you have the greatest chance for success. Secrecy and unclear intentions are the pathway to failure.
  4. Performance must be measurable but not punitive: Where fire services and other first response and military service have successfully introduced fitness standards for staff they have done so in a considered, evidence based manner. To take the example of the British and Dutch fire services, prior to establishing a testing regime, considerable input was sought to quantify the work tasks of firefighters and then, in conjunction with universities to then define the standards required to safely and successfully undertake work. While ultimately there may be consequences for those not meeting standards, always it is critical to ensure that any program seeks to ensure the overall wellbeing of individuals. Testing systems must be able to differentiate those who “won’t get fit” as opposed to those who “can’t get fit”. The service must then work with those who need the help to keep them at work as a priority. This must be made clear to everyone always.
  5. Engage with experts in their fields: When looking to define fitness standards, develop Strength & Conditioning programs or outline medical standards, it is critical that a research to practice interface be established. SME’s from within the fire service can only provide so much information, in the same way that academics can only provide so much data. Working together and ensuring that both parties play a role in any program going forward is critical to the success of the program. 
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