Chris La Fleur is a graduate of Batavia High School and a firefighter for the City of Batavia. He began thinking about fitness among his fellow crew members and what more could be done to prepare his team for the job. “Too many people get injured in the line of duty,” he noted. “So I went looking into fitness programs.”
With funding provided from an outside firefighter’s foundation, the Batavia Fire Department in January of 2017 embarked on a training program. The early morning program is conducted under the direction of another Batavia High School grad Chris Browning. His training company Pro Force is based out of the Campana building on Batavia’s north side.
“Push it!” Browning barks he leads a group of fifteen firefighters through drills conducted in rapid succession. The group is highly focused as Browning alternately jokes with the team while doing demonstrations and issuing instructions on how to achieve better form and keep pace. “We’re changing the culture here!” Browning urges. The firefighters rapidly bound back and forth over a yellow line on the firehouse floor. It is hard work.
Statistics on firefighter health and safety nationwide are not encouraging. More than 30% of firefighters get hurt on the job each year, and 50% of early retirements among firefighters are due to injuries sustained on the job, including heart ailments, back injuries and other stress-induced maladies. “That leads to lost time and good people leaving fire departments,” La Fleur emphasizes. “We decided we want to cut down those numbers.”
Early morning workouts include cardio work for stamina, yoga for balance and flexibility, strength work for muscle performance and injury prevention, and agility drills to improve spatial awareness and strength management when handling ladders and other equipment.
“The cool thing about these workouts is we’re building more of a team feeling,” La Fleur noted. “Knowing that we’re improving every day, even by 1% a week, adds up to confidence to perform our jobs better, and trust others more.”
The group has adopted a number of sayings to focus and help with motivation, including:
"Being fit for duty is one of the most vital & fundamental ingredients of being a successful firefighter."
" Would you want you rescuing you?"
"We don't workout, we train for what the community expects us to do."
"Be 1% better everyday."
"No matter how slow you go, you're still lapping everyone on the couch."
All these incremental changes are designed to prepare Batavia firefighters to do a better job in service to the community. But it’s the hard sweat of an early morning workout that does the most to remind the firefighters of their objectives. Stay healthy. Be fit and ready for the job. And watch that diet. Push away from the table that offers too much coffee or a tempting pile of donuts.
“Everything counts,” La Fleur notes as a morning workout comes to a conclusion. He gets a big slap and a teasing smile from trainer Chris Browning, who works the room looking for opportunities to encourage and challenge his protégés.
The Batavia firefighter fitness program is making waves in the greater firefighting community. Metropolitan cities to the east of Batavia have inquired about how to get things started in their own departments. Better fitness could indeed be the wave of the future for firefighters in general.