There are roughly 127 Glynn County employees who did not have to make peak physical fitness their New Year’s Resolution.
Fire Chief R.K. Jordan did that for them.
All members of the Glynn County Fire Department will take a physical fitness test next month, the first in a series of quarterly conditioning tests. The tests of physical stamina and cardio capacity are intended to gauge the department’s overall readiness to serve the community.
The fitness tests will eventually establish the foundation for a set of minimum physical requirements necessary to serve on the county fire department, criteria Jordan hopes to have established within three years.
“This first test is designed to measure physical endurance,” Jordan said. “It’s just to make everyone aware of where they stand as far as their physical conditioning. This is not to say that the guys were out of shape. I just want them to be aware.”
Jordan is confident all of the county’s front line firefighters and paramedics are physically fit. However, some may be more physically fit than others, he said.
“Many of our people are in phenomenal physical condition,” Jordan said. “But we have a few who need to be more aware of their physical needs as related to serving the department.”
The physical ability test (PAT) is a series of timed exercises that mirror the demands of strength and endurance that the job entails. The exercises include carrying a 42-pound pack up four stories, carrying a heavy fire hose through a 75-foot-long zigzagging course without tipping cones, moving a 160-pound sled 5 feet by smacking it with a 9-pound hammer and dragging a rescue dummy 106 feet. Elizabeth VanBuren, chief of professional standards and compliance, developed the standards.
“It gets them in better shape, and all of it is something they would normally do at a fire scene,” VanBuren said. “And physical training on these things gives them better preparation for what they have to do in the real world.”
Although Jordan had already planned to apply set standards for the department, many of the firefighters had come to him requesting it, he said. The initial tests will be required of all firefighters, including those now working desk jobs, he said.
“I will be the first person to do it,” Jordan said. “Everyone in the department will take the physical conditioning test.”
This test is not a pass or fail scenario. It is merely meant to give individuals a better understanding of their fitness and to determine the department’s overall condition, he said.
During the next fiscal quarter, most likely in May, firefighters will undergo “air consumption drills,” he said. These tests measure cardio fitness. This is a crucial benchmark for firefighters entering a burning building wearing air tanks, Jordan said. The standard firefighter’s air tank is a “30-minute bottle,” which should last a properly-conditioned firefighter 20 minutes. Lack of cardio fitness causes firefighters to consume air more quickly, he said.
“We should, on average, be able to expect 20 minutes out of a crew that’s making an entry,” Jordan said. “Since they always work as a team, if one is not doing that, it can hinder the overall operation.”
Firefighters must meet the requirements set for forth by the state to join the county fire department, Jordan said. However, the county previously had no established department standards that firefighters were required to meet and maintain.
Jordan said similar standards were required of firefighters in Fort Myers, Fla., where he served as assistant fire chief for 14 years prior to taking the chief’s post here last February. The final standardized requirements for the county likely will be modeled in part on those at his previous department, he said. Jordan also talked with Brunswick Fire Chief Randy Mobley, whose department’s entry requirements for physical fitness are among the toughest in the state.
Fire Department employees will first pass a doctor’s physical later this month before taking the fitness test, he said.
“These standards will increase,” Jordan said. “We’re going to build up to a physical fitness level that’s appropriate for our job. Firefighting is a lot of boredom, interjected with extreme levels of peak demand. We need to be prepared for those in order to deliver good customer service for the public.”