The International Association of Fire Fighters, in cooperation with the International Association of Fire Chiefs, committed to an unprecedented endeavor by collaborating with 10 of North America’s finest fire departments to build a stronger fire service by strengthening our foundation – the fire fighter.
The participating departments on the Task Force are:
- Austin, TX Local 975
- Calgary, AB Local 255
- Charlotte, NC Local 660
- Fairfax, VA Local 2068
- Indianapolis, IN Local 416
- Los Angeles County, CA Local 1014
- Metro Dade, FL Local 1403
- New York City, NY Local 94 and Local 854
- Phoenix, AZ Local 493
- Seattle, WA Local 27
A comprehensive wellness program that emphasizes physical, mental, and emotional well-being must be made available to recruits, active fire fighters, and retirees. The Fire Service Joint Labor Management Wellness-Fitness Initiative (WFI) has served as a guide for departments to engage in this pursuit for the past 25 years. Ultimately any wellness-fitness program must be comprehensive, inclusive, accessible, and focused on behavioral change. The original aims of the WFI include:
- Overcome the historic fire service punitive 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, rehabilitation, and behavioral health
Fire fighters must continue to respond to emergency incidents that require extreme physical output and often result in challenging physiological and psychological outcomes. Such situations, over time, can and do affect the overall wellness of the fire fighting and emergency response system. Tomorrow’s fire service requires that we keep our fire fighters fit today. The ultimate goal of the Fire Service Joint Labor Management Wellness-Fitness Initiative is to improve the quality of life for all fire fighters. This system proves the value of investing wellness resources over time to maintain a fit, healthy, and capable fire fighter throughout his/her 25-30+ year career and beyond. An effective program should realize significant cost savings in lost work time, workers’ compensation, and disability.
The first phase of this comprehensive system involved the creation of a network of selected geographically diverse fire departments with excellent union/management relations. Each selected fire department is represented by the fire chief and the IAFF local union president, with additional expertise often provided by the department physician, physiologist, and/or fitness coordinator. A commitment to assuring full union/management cooperation has been received from each department that committed to implementing the Task Force project.
The second phase entailed the development of thorough, holistic wellness programs that fit into the WFI system. Through data collection and analysis, the participating departments created valid baseline data suitable for fire service wide comparisons. The final phase was the creation of a comprehensive system for distribution to the fire service.
The Fire Service Joint Labor Management Wellness-Fitness Initiative manual, now in its fourth edition, is available for free to all IAFF affiliate presidents. Now 26 years old, it continues to be highlighted at the IAFF’s Redmond Symposium/Barbera EMS Conference and the IAFC’s FRI Conference. In 2022, the IAFF, the IAFC and the Task Force members studied barriers and facilitators to WFI implementation and are planning to develop the fifth edition of the WFI Manual along with a third edition of the CPAT Manual and revalidation of the CPAT.
An overall wellness/fitness system must be developed to maintain fire fighters’ physical and mental capabilities and should be the objective of every fire department in cooperation with its local IAFF affiliate. While such a program may be mandatory, the 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 support for those in need; contain training and education components; and be reasonable and equitable to all participants.
The program must address the following key points:
- Confidential behavioral, medical, and fitness evaluations
- Development of a physical fitness and wellness program that is educational and rehabilitative and not punitive
- Requires a commitment by labor and management to a positive individualized fitness/wellness program
- Development of a holistic wellness approach that includes:
- Behavioral health
The Candidate Physical Ability Test (CPAT) was developed as a fair and valid evaluation tool to assist in the selection of fire fighters, and to ensure that all fire fighter candidates possess the physical ability to complete critical tasks effectively and safely. The CPAT program covers every aspect of administering the CPAT, including recruiting and mentoring programs, providing recruits with fitness guidance to help prepare them for the CPAT, and setting up and administering the test. The entire validation process is discussed in detail, as well as the legal issues that departments might face when implementing the actual program.
We are leading an innovative charge to improve fire fighter health and wellness by launching the FIT TO THRIVE (F2T) program. Born as an extension of the IAFF/IAFC Peer Fitness Trainer (PFT) program, F2T is designed to support the WFI by helping more fire fighters be more active, more often so they can experience the benefits of regular exercise. It is comprehensive, inclusive, accessible, and focused on behavior change.