KEEPING FIT: Firefighters get health screening thanks to safety grant

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SUGAR CREEK — Surrounded by eight different high-tech digital cameras, firefighter Andy Drake twisted and turned, jump up and down, lunged forward and back, 19 different movements in all as part of a preventive health assessment scan designed to keep him as fit as a fiddle. The images were quickly put into a program and evaluated so the firefighter could learn performance health tips instantly and get advice from the experts running the program.

Drake and the other 48 full time Sugar Creek Township Fire Department firefighters took part in the 10-minute wellness scan through ProTeam Tactical Performance — a state-of-the-art health assessment business that utilizes knowledge from athletic trainers, Division I as well as professional athletes and physicians to keep people healthy.

The company has run some 900 different scans throughout fire departments in Indiana to date and have found their testing can help prevent injuries by alerting firefighters to deficiency areas in their movements they need to work on. The idea is to reduce the injury rate and save departments thousands in workers’ compensation and labor.

Officials with SCTFD want to see how firefighters use their muscles and limbs and see if there are better ways they can move while doing their jobs to keep them safe and limber throughout their careers and well beyond.

“They can show you things like how you are more likely to injure a shoulder because of how you move and if there is a deficiency and then they can give you exercises to correct that,” Drake said. “I think that’s fantastic.”

Some of the things the ProTeam Tactical Performance team, led by Tim Drudge, director of operations assessed firefighters on included mobility, stability and flexibility. The program also can help provide educational conditioning exercises helping firefighters giving them solid approaches for managing stress and fatigue.

“We’re comparing them to them, establishing a base of their movements and then we’ll come back and see how they’re doing,” Drudge said.

The department was able to set up the assessments at a cost of $175 per firefighter thanks to a $7,000 safety grant secured by Fire Chief Brandon Kleine through the department’s workers’ compensation company, Indiana Public Employers’ Plan, Inc. The chief said the department added $8,000 so they could sign up for the three-year study with ProTeam Tactical.

“The assessment will tell you if you’re functional, not functional or deficient,” Kleine said. “We want people to come in here, do a job for 20 or 30 years and then retire healthy.”

Firefighting is one of the most physically demanding and dangerous jobs in the field of public safety. Battling fires and responding to accidents and medical emergencies can be tasking and comes with a high risk of injury, Kleine said.

Firefighter studies show the National Fire Protection Association recorded more than 58,000 firefighter injuries in the line of duty in 2018. Most fire ground injuries were the result of overexertion, resulting primarily in strains, sprains and muscular pain, the study said.

Officials with SCTFD are trying to help their firefighters stay healthy by being more proactive and offering preventive assessments of each firefighter, something Drake, who is 31 years old, really appreciates.

“They’ll send me exercises to do if they find any deficiencies and then they’ll follow through and update the exercises quarterly,” Drake said. “That can be very beneficial.”

The ProTeam Tactical assessments coincided with the department’s yearly work performance evaluations ran by Battalion Chief Charlie Brown. The minimum standard testing makes sure firefighters are physically fit to do their job. The firefighters had to preform standard work skills — essential job related functions like lifting a ladder, carrying a person, swinging an ax, all on the clock.

“The idea for these types of physical assessments came from the firefighters,” Brown said. “If they can’t pass this testing, they can’t get on a truck and ride to a house.”

Kleine noted it’s important to hold firefighters to professional standards since the taxpayers are paying for the service. In addition to the assessment scan and physical test, the department also holds an annual physical through Public Safety Medical and pay extra to have firefighters take the Boston Heart Study which provides feedback on blood pressure and cholesterol levels to prevent heart issues.

“We’re trying to keep our injury to risk very low and our health very high,” Kleine said.

Currently when a SCTFD firefighter is injured on the job, they’re sent to ProTeam Tactical where officials feel they get a quicker recovery time and better services. The digital ProTeam Tactical Performance program is the only FDA-cleared motion health solution that allows the health professionals to get a complete evaluation of the muscular and skeletal data of every SC Township firefighter after only a 10-minute assessment.

Kleine noted the company is exclusively focused on the training, treatment and recovery of first their responders and the body scan as well as the yearly physical assessments are great tools for them.

With businesses, education and government organizations going high-tech, safety operations must adapt and do the same thing, Kleine noted. Proactive action can help prepare a firefighter’s body for the demands of the job, helping to prevent or reduce the impact of muscle and skeletal injuries and that’s why they signed up for the body scan assessments.