A senior research project by four Lewis-Clark State College students is striving to help Lewiston Fire Department firefighters live healthier lives through understanding their safe performance levels.
Students in the LCSC Movement and Sports Sciences program have a unique service-learning partnership with the fire department for the spring semester. Chelbee Pace and Gabe Davis of Moscow, Olivia Kana of Murrieta, Calif., and Patryce McWilliams of Tacoma, Wash. met with fire department officials and developed a functional fitness assessment through a variety of physical tests. The ultimate goal is to help firefighters live healthier and balanced lives.
“Cardiovascular disease is one of the biggest causes of death in firefighters so physical fitness is very important to us,” Lewiston Fire Chief Travis Myklebust said. “Firefighters can go through a lot of strenuous activity so it’s important to understand what it does to the heart and lungs. I want to see our firefighters be healthy and retire healthy.”
Myklebust said it states in the fire department’s union contract that firefighters must go through a certain fitness assessment each year, but the program is no longer supported. After some internal discussions, Myklebust approached LCSC Movement and Sports Science professor Clay Robinson for help.
“We have medical assessments and they have been very helpful in catching early stages of cancer, but we needed a physical assessment tool designed for us,” Myklebust said.
Robinson put the project out to his students and the four responded. The students worked with the fire department personnel to find out what the eventual goals were and then tossed around ideas. They eventually came up with anaerobic, flexibility, range of motion, and endurance tests where they measure aerobic capacity, heart rate, and blood pressure, among other things, both before and after a workout.
The students also designed an obstacle course at Lewiston’s Vollmer Bowl which more than half of the fire department, including Myklebust, went through. The obstacle course had firefighters, in full gear, run with a firehose for approximately 50 yards and then pull the hose in, run through cones, over wood boxes, and under and over hurdles. Once that was completed, the firefighters had to drag a 160-pound dummy approximately 50 yards.
“The fact that more than half of the fire department is voluntarily participating shows you the belief they have in this,” Myklebust said, shortly after completing the exhausting course after playing basketball for an hour earlier that morning. “My heart rate is good and my recovery rate is good, but my legs are probably going to feel like Jell-O tomorrow.”
The firefighters also tested on stationary bikes with various time intervals, weight resistance, and speeds.
Once the testing is complete, the students will compile the data and use it to come up with base scores for next year. The students also will create exercise plans for the firefighters and have a safe performance target range for each when they go through the tests again next year.
“One they get that data, they can learn how to control their anxiety and how far they can push themselves without putting themselves in danger when they are fighting fires,” Robinson said.
“LC has a phenomenal program so that’s why we reached out to them about this, and here we are today,” Myklebust said. “This is a great partnership and it’s really going to help us.”