PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — The duties of firefighters and police officers differ from those of employees who work at an office or another conventional job site.
Firefighters work in smoke and flames, chopping through walls and kicking aside burning embers in order to extinguish fires. Police officers sometimes must restrain people who are stronger than they are, and also deal with those who are under the influence of drugs or alcohol. They also must be prepared to chase people who don’t want to be caught.
With such job demands, officials at County Physical Therapy in Presque Isle have crafted a way to keep firefighters and police officers fit for duty. For more than two months, officers from the Presque Isle Police and Fire departments have been involved in a 12-week “boot camp” training program at the facility.
Jonas Bard, a physical therapist at CPT, said Monday that 34 participants have completed an array of exercises to challenge their strength, agility, speed, flexibility and cardiovascular abilities.
Bard, along with athletic trainer Andy Helstrom and occupational therapist Adam Simoes, put together the program for the two departments.
Bard pointed to a study originally published in the New England Journal of Medicine in March 2007, which stated that 45 percent of on-duty deaths among firefighters were because of cardiovascular problems, usually heart attacks.
A similar study cited in the June 2008 edition of Police Chief Magazine estimated the risk of a heart attack doubles with each decade of law enforcement service, according to CPT officials.
“We want to reduce those risks so we tailored this boot camp to mimic what these participants do on the job,” Bard said Monday.
Bard noted that firefighters use axes to dig deep into a building’s facade to put out fires and extinguish hot spots. They also need to have the strength and stamina to carry someone out of a burning building if necessary. With that in mind, Bard said, the boot camp involves upper-body exercises for firefighters.
Both groups also participated in exercises to increase stamina and endurance.
Participants attend the boot camp during off-duty hours, taking part in hour-long sessions three days a week. The program is financed by grant money received under the Assistance to Firefighters Grant program administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
The boot camp, which will last for a couple more weeks, was not about losing weight, said Bard, but rather to increase strength to perform job-related tasks and reduce the risk of injury.
“The participants have told us that their clothes fit better, and that they feel stronger and have more energy,” he added.
Police Chief Naldo Gagnon and Fire Chief Darrell White, who are participating in the program, said the camp was keeping their employees fit and healthy.
County Physical Therapy has received interest from other law enforcement and civic groups looking to put together group wellness programs.
“There is room to grow, so this is definitely something we plan to do in the future,” Bard said Monday.