When you arrive on the scene, you don’t rush in without coming up with a plan first. Plan your department’s health and wellness programs or initiatives like you would your incident response. Ask yourself what policies and procedures you should put in play, ask who should be involved, and decide what resources are needed and where you will get them if they’re not already available. During this planning stage you’ll be laying the groundwork for health and wellness within your department.
Activity ideas to get you started:
- Read the Critical Health and Safety Issues in the Volunteer Fire Service to understand the issues that put you and your members at risk, and learn how to make them priorities in your department’s initiatives.
- Adopt NFPA 1500: Standard on Fire Department Occupational Safety and Health Program in your department. The NVFC has a guide to help departments understand and implement this standard.
- Implement the B.E.S.T. Practices for behavior in the fire and emergency services:
- Support the physical, emotional, and mental well-being of all personnel.
- Operate all emergency apparatus and privately owned vehicles to conform to the highest road safety standards and enforce the use of seat belts.
- Develop, practice, and enforce recommended health and safety standards for all personnel.
- Monitor and ensure that all active emergency scenes maintain the utmost level of safety and fireground accountability.
- Learn how to establish an effective and successful health and fitness program in your department with the NVFC’s free Health and Wellness Advocate Workshop.
- When planning your personal and department health initiatives and programs, refer to The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) publication on Preventing Firefighter Fatalities Due to Heart Attacks and Other Sudden Cardiovascular Events.
- Use the American Heart Association’s Physical Activity Guidelines to start thinking about adopting a department health and fitness policy.
- Prepare to be met with resistance when attempting to create a more health conscious culture in the department. This is common, and possible to counter. Consult the Health and Wellness Guide for ways to deal with resistance.
- Ask for members to volunteer to be the department’s Health and Fitness Committee who will plan, organize, and conduct programs to help the department successfully reach your objectives.
- Develop a Heart-Healthy Firefighter Contract to have your members write down their health goals for the year, sign it as proof of their commitment, and document their progress. As they document their progress they’ll see how much they have actually made. This sense of accomplishment will keep them motivated.
- Encourage teamwork through play! By creating sports teams and fitness clubs for department members you’ll not only boost morale for your health initiatives but you’ll also improve teamwork skills. Contact neighboring departments to encourage them to create sports teams of their own and have friendly competitions with each other.
- Ask a heart attack or stroke survivor to come to your department, share his or her story, and explain the importance of heart-health.
- Get a registered dietician, a nutrition student from a local college, or a local chef to donate time to help make your station heart-healthy. Ask them to host a session with department members on which foods in the station’s kitchen are not nutritious and what a tasty, healthier substitute might be.
- Have your members log in to a meal-tracking site, such as the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute’s Menu Plannner or SparkPeople.com. These sites allow you to enter what you eat and see what your total calories and fat are for the day.
Tools and Resources:
Heart-Healthy Firefighter Program
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute
American Diabetes Association
American Heart Association: Physical Activity Guidelines
North American Fire Fighter Veteran Network