Prudhoe Bay Crews Rise to Fitness Challenge

Tuesday, 06 October 2009

By Frank E. Baker, Planet BP Alaska

Beginning this past February, about 180 members of the Greater Prudhoe Bay Fire Department, members of the Medical Emergency Response Team, and some security officers signed up for the BP Alaska Emergency Response Team fitness challenge – an extensive, 12-week program that measures the body’s strength, flexibility, body composition, body fat percentage, and, most importantly, tests an individual’s ability to withstand physical stresses comparable to those encountered in the line of duty.

The challenge’s last fitness assessments were completed in mid-May, and according to Dean Neumann, a firefighter who launched the program five years ago, participants were highly motivated and rose to the challenge.

“There are some members of the team who lost as much as 20 pounds over the three-month period,” says Neumann. “They combined regular exercise with a healthy diet and really got involved in the program. For example, one part of the challenge offered a choice between a one-mile walk, as fast as the participant could go, or a three-mile walk with a 45-pound pack. Almost to a person, they all chose the harder test.”

Greater Prudhoe Bay Fire Chief Jim Jones and his alternate Doug Frey affirm that the program has provided both short-term and long-term benefits.

“The fitness challenge isn’t just a 12-week program – an end in itself,” says Jones. “Rather, we’re building a healthy living culture among our ERT [Emergency Response Team] members that they can continue throughout the year. It’s all about getting them to make healthy choices and make physical fitness a fundamental part of their lives. It prepares them for the rigors of their job and gives them confidence. It makes them safer when performing their tasks and improves their health and quality of life.”

Kelly Heithold and Ed Brandt of Wellness Initiatives Network of Alaska, Inc., BP Alaska’s health and wellness contractor, helped coordinate and administer the fitness challenge. Heithold says there is considerable camaraderie and competition among ERT members, and it became evident over the 12 weeks that they were putting forth their best efforts.

“The challenge includes cardio exercises and tests that focus on a healthy heart and conditioning, which are very important in view of the kind of physical demands these people often face in their jobs,” says Heithold. “With complete firefighter turnout gear, including oxygen apparatus, ERT members are often carrying 40-45 pounds and required to perform very demanding tasks, such as a personnel rescue in areas that are difficult to access.”

“Marathon runners and other athletes train for events,” adds Brandt. “Physical training and conditioning for the demands of a job, particularly a physically demanding job like firefighting, is no different.”

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