Wellness is defined as a balance between medical fitness, physical fitness, emotional fitness, behavioral fitness, and rehabilitation when needed (IAFF manual.) In 2005 and beyond, meeting the demands of the fire fighting profession requires a constant state of wellness training from its members.
Traditionally, medical and physical fitness have been prioritized above emotional or behavioral fitness in the Fire Service. However, it is clear from the aftermath of 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, and other disasters that these priorities are now changing. With each passing year, research shows that fire fighters who balance physical, behavioral and emotional fitness have the best outcomes, whether one is looking at adjustment to becoming a fire fighter, ratings of career satisfaction, family well-being, or adjustment to retirement.
Balance is a key factor to the physical demands of fire fighting. Fire fighters balance both their equipment and their body as they climb stairs in a burning building. Similarly, during a rescue attempt fire fighters balance their weight on the rungs of a ladder in order to reach a victim. The physical demands of fire fighting are also balanced by on-duty schedules. Fire fighters work one or two days on the job followed by several days off. This balance allows firefighters to rest and recharge so that they can bring their best physical self to the important job of fire fighting and protecting the public. When this physical balance is disrupted, fatigue, negative moods, error and injuries can occur. The importance of physical balance and physical strength for effective fire fighting is undisputed in the profession.
Balance is also a key factor for behavioral health. When behaviors, moods, thoughts and emotions are not in balance, a high-risk situation for the firefighter and his or her job can occur. Unhealthy or aggressive behaviors, negative moods, thoughts and emotions can disrupt the balance of effective functioning both in life and on the job. Fire fighters would never consider walking off balance on the ladder during a rescue. Maintaining balance in behavioral health is also critical to fire fighting. The mind and body are not separate entities but thoroughly interwoven, connected. Mind and body combine together to produce the whole person just as hydrogen and oxygen combine together to produce the fire fighter's most effective tool – water.
Maintaining balance minimizes physical and behavioral risks for fire fighters.
The IAFF has many resources available to aid fire fighters in achieving this balance from recruitment through retirement. Examples of resources available for firefighters and IAFF membership include this manual. More examples of resources are listed by specific categories of wellness on the pages that follow.
Physical fitness includes health, strength, suitability and durability. In contrast, behavioral fitness involves your thoughts, feelings and behavior. A balance of both physical and behavioral fitness results in maximal fitness to cope with the daily hassles and the extreme stressors that occur as a function of work, home and community. Daily practice in balancing physical and behavioral fitness is key to an overall program of wellness. The majority of the pages that follow this introduction to the IAFF Behavioral Wellness Web-based Manual focus on behavioral fitness; links to physical fitness sites are mentioned below.
The IAFF has developed a Wellness-Fitness Manual that describes and gives suggestions for the assessment of medical fitness. The manual further lays out a framework for physical fitness training, with specific protocols. Interested fire fighters can download the manual at http://www.iaff.org/hs/Well/wellness.html In addition, fire fighters are encouraged to use gyms, local YMCAs, personal training guides. On line, the American Council on Exercise has fitness facts available for downloading. The Centers for Disease Control offer free summaries of exercise facts that are interesting and inspiring.
For training for behavioral fitness, the interested fire fighter is referred to the following pages within this on-line manual:
Management of Health Risk Behaviors
Training in Behavioral Skills
Additional sections that may be helpful for designing a personal behavioral health-training plan include:
Marriage and Family Issues
Reactions to Stress
Understanding Mental Illnesses
Using this Jobaid
This manual was written for the fire fighter, fire fighter retirees, and his or her community. That means that the information and resources in this manual can be used by you, your family members – including children, spouses, parents, grandparents – your co-workers, supervisors, friends and neighbors. You may discover something in this manual that applies both to you and your co-worker. If so, share it with him or her. Alternatively, you may find some information that would be particularly helpful to another fire fighter or fire fighter’s family member. Do them a favor and print out the page and pass it along to them. Similarly, if someone directs you to some information in this manual, have an open mind about it and check it out.