By Jim Newell
After a long day answering medical calls, aiding at accident scenes or putting out fires the Orion Township firefighters may feel like they’re running on empty, but a lot of pre-conditioning goes into making sure they are up to the tasks.
To help firefighters stay in shape for the physical demands of the job, Phill Stublensky, owner of Powerhouse Gym – Lake Orion, donated two treadmills to the Orion Township Fire Department last week.
And it may surprise people to learn that the leading cause of on-duty deaths for firefighters isn’t smoke inhalation or burns, but a sudden cardiac event, such as a heart attack.
“We appreciate Powerhouse and their commitment to firefighter safety. Thank you very much, it’s awesome,” said Assistant Fire Chief John Pender, who was on the treadmill the day of the interview.
“Firefighters’ health and physical fitness is paramount. If they’re not physically fit, they won’t be able to do the job and we’ll have nothing but problems. It’s extremely important to us,” Pender said.
“Just being part of the community for almost 20 years now, we like to partner up with police, fire, all of those guys, to try to help them out anyway we can,” Stublensky said. “We had to do some renovations at the club and wanted to update some equipment and we love to help these guys out. They’re trying to get more and more focused on cardio for the department and what better way for us to help.”
The treadmills were initially about $7,000 each and are still worth a couple thousand dollars. “We’ve always gone with the best and these things still have years and years left on them,” Stublensky said.
The new fitness equipment allows some firefighters to train in a circuit, with some working on cardiovascular conditioning while others are working on strength training.
“With the addition of the treadmills, everyone of our members can be engaged in an exercise, either through a machine or free weights, all simultaneously,” said firefighter Lt. Chris Hagan.
“If the fire department doesn’t receive a grant or a donation, like Phill’s, then we have to use taxpayer dollars. This is a great way to bring a high-quality piece of equipment at no expense to taxpayers. Just a great partnership with a local business that identified the need and knows the risk of firefighter health and answered that (need),” Hagan said.
The Orion Township Board of Trustees also approved purchasing training equipment for the fire departments. Fire stations 2, 3 and 4 all have fitness equipment. Station no. 1 on Anderson Street in the village is currently under construction and may have some training equipment, but the station is smaller and has less room for a training room, Pender said.
“The number one killer of firefighers is cardiac death or a significant cardiac event. The physical strain on your heart when you have the fire gear on – you have a thermal aspect that increases your (body’s) demand. And then now you’re going into an environment that is superheated in addition to your own body temperature. Your cardiac demand is increased,” said Hagan. “But what your body is able to supply back to its own body is actually decreased. So, you’re working at two different levels right now where it makes you more prone to have a cardiac event.”
“We could have the best equipment in the world, but if we’re not physically fit it’s just a toy at that point,” Hagan said.
According to the National Fire Protection Association (nfpa.org) report, Firefighter fatalities in the United States-2017, released in June 2018, sudden cardiac death accounted for 48 percent of on-duty firefighter deaths.
Overexertion/stress/medical-related causes accounted for 53 percent of firefighter deaths.
By comparison, burns and rapid fire progress accounted for only five percent of firefighter deaths.
Orion Township firefighters carry about 60-70 pounds of equipment when answering fire calls; and even more weight if their gear gets wet, Hagan said.
“Our battalion works out together at least once every tour that we’re on shift. And then our guys work out on their own at the stations as well,” said Captain Eric Florence. “We do a lot of cardio interval workouts.”
The firefighters have a white board on the wall with a list of exercises to follow, tracking their progress after each workout.
“We have a workout of the month that we put on the board and then we do some sort of cardio workout, with maybe a little bit of body weight or weights mixed in. We time ourselves and track it and it’s a bit of motivator to everybody to try and do better, have some fun at it and gain from it that way,” Florence said.
“You can read studies that show working out in groups is actually a more successful way to workout than by yourself, mainly through peer motivation,” Florence said. “If you have someone that’s not sure what to do, or how to work out, he’s got other firefighters to lean on to teach him proper methods and ways to be successful.”
Stublensky said the fire department has been integral with the club and some of the firefighters are members. Powerhouse also has been supportive of the firefighters for years and has previously helped develop programs “to help everybody get active.”
“We appreciate them so we’re giving back and saying thank you. That’s what it is, it’s about building relationships and being in the community,” he said.