New heroes, old theme

Some time ago, I began working with the Fort Wayne Fire Department (FWFD) after the tragic death of a New Haven police officer – the result of a heart attack. As I have written repeatedly, the vast majority of cardiovascular disease is preventable by making simple lifestyle modifications. After this community servant’s untimely death, all of the police, fire and EMS departments from Fort Wayne and the surrounding area met to discuss how we could prevent another such tragedy.
During our meeting, I gained a new appreciation for our public safety personnel, all they do for our communities and the stresses they encounter every day.
Our firefighters are true heroes – they run into burning buildings while we are running out! I had no idea the extent of their hero-ness until I walked a mile (more like a couple of hundred yards) in their boots. As I began to work with these true community heroes, I began to understand that they could be the role models for which I have been searching. I am not minimizing  the wonderful things other people I have introduced to you have done to promote healthy lifestyles in our region. But the wellness program at the FWFD should be, and is, the envy of fire departments across the country and a model for any employee wellness program in any business.
Several years ago, FWFD began to require that all firefighters pass a Fire Specific Skills course in a limited time as part of a Work Performance Evaluation (WPE). Firefighters who failed to complete the course in the allotted time were paired with a Peer Fitness Trainer (PFT) who worked with them to improve their overall health and wellness so that they could pass the course. Importantly, the skills course consisted of fire-specific skills that every firefighter encounters on the job. More importantly, these skills easily translate into civilian life and can make the firefighter healthier every day. After several years of mandatory WPE, FWFD experienced an incredible cultural transformation within the department – a culture of wellness. No longer satisfied with adequate, FWFD insisted on extraordinary performance levels and they achieved it.
In upcoming blogs, I plan to explain why firefighters deserve our accolades and what they can teach us about health and wellness. These people are heroes. You can subscribe to my blog through the RSS feed icon on the home page of so you won’t miss any of FWFD’s incredible stories. 
Oh, by the way, Mom has had a bit of a setback in her training for the Fort4Fitness Senior Marathon. After eye surgery, she faced complications and took a couple of weeks off from her training routine. Interestingly, she told me during her recovery that she had already logged seven miles of the required 25. I lovingly suspect she may have imagined this, but – go figure – her priorities are in the right place.
Keep active!
Photo (left to right): Lieutenant Mark Litwinko (FWFD); Captain Jim Noll (FWFD); Denise Smith, PhD, professor of Exercise Science and director of First Responder Health & Safety Lab, Skidmore College; Mark O’Shaughnessy, MD, PPG – Cardiology; and Chief Doug Abernathy, Health and Safety, Indianapolis Fire Department.

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