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Month: March 2016

Plan your training and see the success…not just your fitness, but your firehouse

Plan your training and see the success…not just your fitness, but your firehouse

I’ve struggled for a number of years and thought about posting this topic or a very similar one for quite some time. “Why training plans matter,” is a topic that crosses over from fitness training right over to fire training programs and the importance is almost identical. While I was out in Seattle for my 10th competition in the Scott Firefighter Stair Climb and surrounded by people with a strong desire to excel through planning, I decided it was time and had the life experience to speak about it.

When I started the journey to a #FIREFIGHTERFIT life back in 2004, I didn’t know the complexity and the extent of where it would take me. The explanation could be confidence based, the unknowns, the doubt, the lack of knowing how to get from Point A to Point B, but looking back at it now the problem kind of sticks out. While I had a “plan” which was “work out” that’s a very loose plan that lacks structure, direction, goals, and benchmarks that are all important for success.  I knew I had to run, but maybe I didn’t truly understand why I needed to do something specifically or why I needed to look at technique.  I knew cardio was important and I needed it, but didn’t understand or utilize the benefits of intense interval training and how that could add to success in my endeavors.

Working out or training was sometimes “showing up” and simply  “going through the motions,” and while I felt like I accomplished something I didn’t always see the improvements. I wasn’t all in, and all dedicated to a plan that had a direction. In fact it really wasn’t a plan at all.  It was show up, get the job done and go home.  Does this sound like maybe your plan, or sometimes your department?  We’ll get to that in a few paragraphs…

What a plan did for me…

Fast-forward several years to when I started to see times improve, weight fall-off, body fat reduced, and a much healthier lifestyle. What was the difference you ask? A plan. Sure I had dedication to a point, but adding a plan and being dedicated to it drove me into positive directions and I began to reap large rewards.  Planning it out was more than just writing it down and executing it, it also involved educating myself more on techniques, sorting fads from successful methods, and evaluation.

My plan was one that not only included daily goals for steps, floors, activity, and what workout was going to happen, but goals on a monthly basis and even further out. Part of that plan was how to reach the goals and the journey that I was going to take. I wrote it down, because when you have to put it to paper or on your blog, its hard to miss and pretty hard to back down from.

Even more importantly if you are married or have a family and other obligations, by writing these down you can share with others that this is a 45-minute training, or this is going to be a longer night, or this night is my rest night. Have you ever come home from a workout to find your wife unhappy that you were an hour late and she cooked your favorite meal? The lack of sharing that plan sometimes has some adverse affects around the house that put stressors on relationships.

Plans require organization…

The first time I began an organized fitness program with an instructor, we sat down and did roughly an hour long session wherein we discussed my goals, did measurements, tests, and setup a plan. When I worked continually one-on-one with a trainer, they almost always had a book, a clipboard, or a tablet with what we were working on, and I loosely knew before attending what exactly we were going to do that session. When I attend group classes with a fitness instructor, I know exactly from the schedule what training was that night, what different clothes I may need, equipment I may need, or preparation that I might need. It’s a plan and something that I keep and work with. I modify it for training for some events or at different parts of the year, or indeed on competition day like in Seattle I have a plan for that event as well.

The cross over to your house…

Where does this cross over to the firehouse you ask? Imagine if you will what it would be like to only “go through the motions” in your firehouse training, or simply “show up” and figure it out” without any plan? “Just showing up,” lacks almost all accountability and shows no type of plan, direction for the future, goals to achieve, or structure. This is where I make a transition to talking about the importance of firehouse training. Does that sound successful or that it would drive any type of performance? Does it sound like a true dedication of leadership to your organization, firefighters, their families, and the community that you serve?

When you lack planning, direction, goals, communication, and dedication, you lack key ingredients to a successful training and have nothing more than a gathering of people. Just so we are clear, that training I am speaking of is not just physical fitness, but overall fire/rescue/EMS training as a whole.

We as firefighters are athletes, and arguably many would even throw out the word warriors. When I think of athlete I think team, and when I think warrior I think of the Navy SEALS. Do you think that either of these programs gained success at achieving their goals without plans for training, plans for missions and game time, or in everyday operation? Imagine where the two teams from the Super Bowl would be if both simply told their guys, “hey just show up and we’ll figure it out tonight.” Would they be successful? Would the missions of our military elite be successful if they “just showed up and figured something out”?

Going back to that training plan.

Having a mapped out plan enables your firefighters to recognize that you as leaders have a solid direction and they will feel as if their skill building and training to improve are important.   The phrases “training is important, and “we take training seriously here”, are thrown around so carelessly sometimes. If training is that important and serious, then you need to have plans for it.

If some of the largest fire organizations around the world have figured out regimented training programs, then we already know its possible. Whether you are a full-time, part-time, combo, or all volunteer house, having a plan is important. For the full-time house, you have a more captive audience if its occurring on shift, but for the volunteer house where they are taking additional time away from family, jobs, or other duties, its even more critical.

When I mentioned sharing that personal training plan with your family being important, in the life of a first responder, having a balance with family is highly important. Your family doesn’t need to know every intimate detail about training that night, but knowing a little information can help them plan accordingly. Have you ever came home before training to find a well cooked meal, only to tell your spouse that you can’t eat a heavy meal tonight? Has your family ever made plans, only to find out that training changed for this night and is short and they could have spent more time with you.

To take it a step further here, this next statement goes right at the training officers, line officers, chiefs, and those handing the planning of said training. As leaders in the fire service, you need to take into consideration that your planning, or lack of, not only affects your firefighters, but you affect their families as well.

Warriors are hungry…

Of course we are hungry, the food aspect at a firehouse goes without saying, however I mean a deeper kind of hunger. We are hungry to be challenged, we are hungry to train, we are hungry to be empowered, and we are hungry to excel. If you aren’t “feeding” your firefighters enough when it comes to the training aspect, you are setting your house and your mission up for failure. Not only are your firefighters going to become complacent about their skills, but also that complacency spills over to other aspects of the firehouse and fire ground.

If you as officers or those over training can’t take this seriously, how do you expect your crews to? When you fail to plan well enough and provide adequate training you jeopardize not only mission, but losing your firefighters as well. Gradually over time you will see them become more and more complacent at the trainings, maybe opting to train at another house or perhaps look to train at outside resources or events. Worse yet, they not only will seek the training elsewhere, but if they aren’t getting out of it what they seek, you risk losing them to another house.

How to plan…

By doing something you are moving forward. Seems really simple, right? Maybe the issue is that you have great training plans for those weekly or bi-weekly training nights but no one knows? Simple enough fix, put together a calendar that details like this:

  • March 1st week – Classroom: New vehicle concepts and considerations
  • March 2nd week – HOT: Pump operations / tanker shuttle w/ Mutual-aid
  • March 3rd week – HOT: Live burns at training house
  • March 4th week – HOT: Search and Rescue

The above sounds like a nice month to me as a firefighter, but do you think that there are some difference things that your members might do to prepare for each of those? Different clothes, gear, meals/hydration possibly? Maybe they have to miss one of those training nights and are trying to make plans at home. If they just went to a class on vehicles, maybe they can skip that class, but attend the other three.

Maybe the issue is a little deeper than just listing your training ideas for the month, and mapping out the calendar year. Maybe you have training officers, but they just randomly pick something and put little organization into the training and what this will do to improve the skills of your department? This is a much bigger issue that is going to take more than writing some ideas on the calendar, its going to take some coordination between training officers, and the brass above. Its time to have a lil’ sit down and put some heads together.

As the training officer do you have the support from above and have clear expectations? If not, then you need to hammer expectations out and then build your training plan from there. Do you have certain fundamentals that you want to hit every year and split the year with other specializations? Maybe part of that plan is bringing in a major speaker or guest instructor every year, but regardless these are all pieces of the plan if you want to see success and keep interest.

From the largest house to the smallest its just going to take communication and dedication from those involved to make the plan functional. Look out, when you get this rolling, you’re going to experience changes. Changes in motivation, attitude, performance, ability, morale, and just maybe it will change from going through the motions to being the warriors.

VIDEO – Scott Firefighter Stair Climb 2016

VIDEO – Scott Firefighter Stair Climb 2016

Screen Shot 2016-03-14 at 10.06.39 AMHere is the video wrap up from the 25th Annual Scott Firefighter Stair Climb in Seattle, WA.  The event which i talk about throughout the year is a fundraiser for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.  Most don’t know that after I complete my day in competition that I volunteer through the rest of the day with some amazing photographers to capture and document the event.  Here is a video that I put together from this years climb.


How I dropped 2:18 from my time at the 2016 Scott Firefighter Stair Climb

How I dropped 2:18 from my time at the 2016 Scott Firefighter Stair Climb

IMG_1506What an event this year at the 25th annual Scott Firefighter Stair Climb. I hope to put together several articles about the event as there is so much to go over, but this one will focus on how I set a new PR. Between last year and this year I managed to drop 2:18 off my time from 2015 to set a new PR at the Columbia Center Tower. For those that don’t know about the event, the competition is done in full firefighting PPE with SCBA and on breathing air. Skyscrapers are a challenge to race anywyas, but to do so with that much gear on is a feat.

Long before the planning of the how I was going to take on the tower this year I had heard about a new and amazing product called the “Blast Mask”. The design of the device allows it to attach to your SCBA mask and lets you train your body with a resistant to challenge your cardiorespiratory system. Shortly after the New Year I made the decision to invest in the product and try it out myself. Like anything, I won’t recommend a product I don’t own, or don’t use and believe in. It didn’t take long to like the product and love what it did for me. You can find the review here. So for the better part of three months even while not in gear, I used the Blast Mask for my training climbs.

How do I know that the Blast Mask made a difference?  Because i track what I do, how I do it, and this was the only major addition to my workout regimen from last year to now.  Sure I did more with weights, and in fact I thought because I was focusing more with lifting that I may be missing out.  I was wrong.  This product was challenging me, and working my body to prepare me to excel and make a difference.

I always like to set goals for events and come up with a plan for each so that I have something to shoot for and challenge myself. When I came up with the plan I decided on being down in the 25-minute range (25th anniversary), be a VIP, and have a great year of fundraising. When I drew up my map of the building and where I wanted to be I had plans for pace, plans for style, and how to get it done. When I passed the bottle change floor I was shocked as I was only about 12 seconds off from where I planned on being. When I crossed the finish I was shocked. I saw my time on my Fitbit and couldn’t believe it. It was almost an hour before I could find out the finish time and if I pulled it off.

Did the climb challenge me, you bet! Did I feel winded like before where I was gasping for air and running into air supply issues, NO! Don’t get me wrong, there were times of struggle and times where my pace slowed down, but overall I felt better and felt more physically prepared for the event. What got me there to where I wanted to be at this year had two parts, one was the increased intensity of training with the Blast Mask, and the other was the sheer mental part of fighting for my honorees. The physical aspect can be expected to help, the mental aspect is one that you can never really tell just how much it will push you.

If you’re looking for a great product, check them out. The fire service as a whole is stuck in a rut where our LODD revolve around health issues being a leading cause, lets focus on dropping that number. You say its not possible? I say let me show you people and determination that are making it possible!

We climb for those that can’t

We climb for those that can’t

As I sit in the plane this morning at CMH and wait for a mechanical issue to be fixed I find myself in touch with brother firefighters and families of those that we are climbing and championing for.  Some days are better than others as families who are dealing with Leukemia understand.  Some days we learn of good news, great results, and very positive and uplifting things, and then there are other days.  Those days with bad news, sad news, and news that no one is ever prepared for.  Those reasons both good and bad are why we do what we do and why we won’t stop.  We climb for those that can’t, those who haven’t the strength, the ability, and for those that have gained their wings.  We climb, compete, and fundraise so that someday other families will not have to hear the word cancer.

As I reflect back on the last ten years of this event, its amazing to think how far we have came as an organization at the Scott Firefighter Stair Climb.  We measured firefighters in the hundreds and now we approach firefighters totaling near 2000.  We’ve seen firefighters come and go, new volunteers and familiar faces, and so many great changes.  This year we celebrate 25-years and so much success.  Last year we raised $2.2 millon and i cant imagine what is ahead.  I am looking forward to many years ahead and at some point my son Jonas, joining me in the climb and making a difference.  

A “thank you” seems so small for all of the good deeds that have been done for me to get to this point.  The support, the donations, the equipment, the services traded, the sponsorships, the gear, and everything logistically to make it happen, but THANK YOU.  You have no idea how much the support of others means, no matter how big or small.  This is far from a one man job and although I am a team of one representing the great State of Ohio, I am a part of a much larger team.