Pushing, pulling, dragging and carrying equipment are part of the regular physical stress firefighters place on their bodies as they do their job to keep their communities safe.
But seldom do firefighters have evidence-based plans to take care of their own bodies, other than wearing heavy protective equipment on the job.
That situation has changed for firefighters with the Terre Haute Fire Department due to a partnership with Indiana State University’s College of Health and Human Services and its Department of Applied Medicine and Rehabilitation.
Associate professor Kenneth Games is researching the area of tactical athlete health and safety to help firefighters and others in public safety and military service reduce and prevent injuries.
“It’s about the overall health and well-being of the person, not just the job they do,” Games said this week while talking about the Neuromechanics, Interventions, and Continuing Education Research Laboratory, which opened Sept. 11 at ISU.
The NICER lab is where THFD firefighters are already going, voluntarily, to work on physical issues they have, or to avoid future issues.
The lab operates as a clinic four hours each day. It also serves as a classroom for the athletic training program at ISU.
The program is offered free to city firefighters. It has received a grant from the Center for Community Engagement at ISU, and Games said he plans to apply for other federal funds to expand the program to other public servant groups.
“There is tremendous physical and mental toll taken on public servants, but they often don’t take the time to stay fit,” Games said.
Many firefighters start their careers in good physical condition and have been high school or college athletes, he said, so they might be used to running or lifting weights. The tactical athlete approach is different and includes flexibility and other functional movements that firefighters do on the job.
Games said much of the research done by the program has examined the relationship between firefighter personal protective equipment and musculoskeletal injury.
While personal protective equipment has greatly reduced exposure to occupational hazards in firefighting such as smoke and flames, it has had the unintended consequence of increasing musculoskeletal injuries due to the increased weight loads now placed on firefighters.
Games directs the Tactical Athlete Research and Education Center at ISU, which is a collaboration between researchers and public or private agencies such as the Rural Health Innovation Collaborative.
While some fire departments in larger metropolitan areas may hire athletic trainers to work with firefighters and police on physical fitness, Games said, smaller departments such as Terre Haute’s usually do not have the funding to invest in such programs.
“Our long-term vision is to make ISU and the city a national model for this type of program,” Games said.
For more information on TAREC, go online to www.indstate.edu and search for Tactical Athlete.
Lisa Trigg can be reached at 812-231-4254 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at TribStarLisa.