Fitness goal of fire, police programs

Departments try incentives, tests to ensure health

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Columbia County deputy Jason Hilley has his weight checked by Lt. Butch Askew. The department requires a monthly weight and professional appearance check, plus an annual physical.  Jim Blaylock/Staff
Jim Blaylock/Staff
Columbia County deputy Jason Hilley has his weight checked by Lt. Butch Askew. The department requires a monthly weight and professional appearance check, plus an annual physical.

But there's nothing funny about overweight deputies who can't chase bad guys, officials say, or firefighters who can't climb ladders.

Richmond County's neighboring public safety departments avoid that scenario with annual physical fitness tests and through financial incentives to stay in shape.

Deputies at the Columbia County Sheriff's Office, for example, pay a lower insurance premium based on their level of health.

North Augusta public safety officers are given an annual physical to test their strength, agility and general wellness.

Neither the Richmond County Sheriff's Office nor the fire department have any annual checkups. The sheriff's office is doing away with its initial physical fitness test at hiring, Col. Gary Powell said.

Both Powell and Fire Chief Howard Willis point to the discounted gym memberships offered to county employees as ways to stay in shape. Powell said a "majority" of deputies do go to the YMCA to take advantage of that offering.

"We remind them to stay in shape and present a professional image of the department," Powell said.

Willis added that there are weights and stationary bicycles at fire stations.

He acknowledged the importance of firefighters being in good health and shape because they work in what can be an "extreme atmosphere." Firefighters should be able to keep themselves, and others, safe during a rescue, the fire chief said.

If they "can't perform they normally step down or find something else to do," Willis said.

Willis didn't have a response when asked what happens when a firefighter realizes he can't do his job in the middle of an emergency response.

Tracing the source

TV might show cops in constant foot chases, but in reality it's tough staying in shape as a first responder.

Deputies spend a lot of their 12-hour shifts behind the wheel, driving from one call to the next or waiting for something to happen. Their best meal of the day could be a drive-through burger hastily scarfed down on the way to a call for service.

Firefighters have chores to do around the station in between calls, but there's still a lot of down time spent lounging in front of the TV.

Supervisors in some jurisdictions don't take excuses for overweight employees.

Columbia County deputies have annual physicals, but supervisors also check their subordinates' professional appearance once a month. That checklist covers uniform basics such as shiny boots and trimmed hair, and whether a deputy has a gut hanging over his utility belt.

Capt. Steve Morris said Columbia County takes professional appearance very seriously because every deputy represents the agency -- and it's not just citizens taking notice.

"Criminals often size up an officer before deciding whether to challenge him," Morris said. "The more fit you are, the less likely a criminal will test you."

Deputies are more likely to win a physical struggle if they are in shape, and it cuts down on recovery time if they are injured. A deputy should also be in good condition in case he needs to help out a fellow deputy under attack, Morris said.

Officers and firefighters in North Augusta are cross-trained in their jobs, so it's especially important for them to be prepared for any eventuality, Lt. Tim Pearson said.

An annual physical tests their general wellbeing and strength, but doesn't include a body mass index. Pearson said some officers are just big in stature; what matters more is that they're able to "satisfactorily perform their duties."

Pearson said an officer would probably go on probation if he failed the physical, but he wasn't sure what the consequences would be because that's never happened.

"We pride ourselves on officers being able to meet those standards," he said.

Keeping it in check

The city of Aiken has been promoting a health and wellness program for the past 20 years. For public safety, it's split into two categories. Officers can either provide a note from their doctor annually proving they're in good health, or take a physical fitness test that includes sit-ups, a mile run and weightlifting.

Capt. Wendell Hall said good health is essential. Firefighters have been known to have heart attacks at strenuous fires, he said, and officers have to be prepared to sprint from an air-conditioned car at a moment's notice.

"Bad guys don't allow us to stretch first," Hall joked.

The Aiken County Sheriff's Office has a physical fitness test before hiring, but nothing afterward to monitor the weight of deputies, Capt. Troy Elwell said.

A voluntary physical fitness program was attempted at one time, but "we didn't get much of a response out of it," Elwell said.

Added incentives

Some departments use financial incentives, both positive and negative, to reinforce their efforts to keep deputies in shape.

Columbia County divides its deputies into three health insurance tiers following an annual physical exam. In Tier 1, a deputy pays 10 percent of costs, the insurance company 90 percent. The other tiers and corresponding percentages are similar: 80/20 and 70/30.

"It can cost an employee a significant amount of money," Morris said.

It's not just insurance. If sworn deputies are not adhering to appearance standards, they're sent to a review board and can ultimately lose their jobs.

Richmond County employees are given a higher discount on their gym membership the more often they visit the facility.

Ultimately it's the taxpayer who benefits from healthy employees.

Al Cothran, the revenue administrator for the city of Aiken, said deputies in good shape take fewer sick days and make fewer worker compensation claims, which lowers insurance costs.

That's not to mention the benefit of having a firefighter who is able to carry your children out of a burning building.

"You want someone fit and able to respond when the call comes," Cothran said.

Comments (15) Add comment
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corgimom
33859
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corgimom 07/25/10 - 12:53 am
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"Willis didn't have a

"Willis didn't have a response when asked what happens when a firefighter realizes he can't do his job in the middle of an emergency response."

Sometimes, people die. Or other firefighters are put in danger to haul their fellow firefighter's fat patootie out.

It's not so much about climbing ladders; it's about sucking too much oxygen out of their breathing tanks and running out too soon- and collapsing.

Did that question really need a response?

3g
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3g 07/25/10 - 08:01 am
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" firefighters spend down

" firefighters spend down time lounging in front of a TV " and getting paid , what , $20 or $30 per hour ? I certainly do not want my tax dollars spent this way .

getalife
4
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getalife 07/25/10 - 08:45 am
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Most of the law enforcement I

Most of the law enforcement I see around the area and all of those that are on the TV news are way over weight. I don't see how these could pass any physical test, much less run down a crook.

CobaltGeorge
164128
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CobaltGeorge 07/25/10 - 08:49 am
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Getalife, you are pretty

Getalife, you are pretty accurate on that comment. I think RCSO should restrict all their officers from eating or spending over 2 hours at Harvest Buffet.

30cal
0
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30cal 07/25/10 - 09:14 am
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SOME city's have GPS tracking

SOME city's have GPS tracking and can tell how long a car sat at one location.I hate seeing a vehicle sitting w/A.C.on while they hang out in a store.

JC
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JC 07/25/10 - 09:41 am
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" firefighters spend down

" firefighters spend down time lounging in front of a TV " and getting paid , what , $20 or $30 per hour ? I certainly do not want my tax dollars spent this way ."

There's several mistakes in your post. First we don't spend hours lounging in front of a TV. Our days are typically filled with equipment and vehicle maintenance, training to maintain our certifications and to help lower/maintain the city's ISO rating (a min. of 3 hours per day must be spent on training), and other activities such as inspections, pre-plan tours, station tours, and other public education activities. As to the 20 or 30 dollars and hour. Do some research. http://216.116.225.82/metro/salaries/richmond_county.shtml
There you will find all the salaries listed with the hourly rate. It ranges from $10/hr for those just hired to just over $20 for a Battalion Chief who's been here for over 25 years.

Gothamist
26
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Gothamist 07/25/10 - 12:08 pm
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3G,KYLE MARTIN (AUTHOR), and

3G,KYLE MARTIN (AUTHOR), and all the other arm chair quarterbacks; but there's still a lot of down time spent lounging in front of the TV.? THANKS FOR THE VERY INSULTING COMMENT. Firefighters spend the majority of their 24 shift, TRAINING, DRILLING ON ALREADY PREPARED OPERATIONAL PLANS, CRITIQUING PREVIOUS INCIDENTS, (REQUIRES THE USE OF A LAPTOP WITH THE AID OF A TV) HYDRANT INSPECTION, PERFORMING MAINTENANCE OF THE APPARATUS, TOOLS AND QUARTERS, ETC,,, THE LIST GOES ON. KEEP IN MIND ALL OF THIS IS DONE WHILE IN SERVICE, MEANING THE COMPANY RESPONDS TO ALL ALARMS AND ON RETURN TO QUARTERS, THEN CONTINUES THE TRAINING/DRILLING/ TASK THEY WERE DOING PREVIOUSLY. THE LAST SEVERAL WEEKS, THE FF AND PO HAVE WORKED IN EXTREMELY HIGH TEMPS, WHICH MAKES THE JOB ALL THE MORE DANGEROUS. 3G- HAVE YOU EVER CRAWLED DOWN A HOT(700, OR 800 DEGREES) SMOKEY HALLWAY TO SEARCH FOR SOMEONE REPORTED TRAPPED? OR PERHAPS MADE A CAR STOP ALONE AT 2AM? REST ASSURED 3G, YOU'RE TAX DOLLARS ARE WELL SPENT, IN FACT RC & CC SAVE MORE $$$ IN PROPERTY EACH YEAR THEN IT COSTS TO RUN THE DEPARTMENTS, NOT A BAD DEAL. (I WAS A FF FOR 25 YEARS)

corgimom
33859
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corgimom 07/25/10 - 11:00 am
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3g, you can't be serious with

3g, you can't be serious with that post.

Down time? You mean how they work 24 hour shifts and they have to SLEEP?

Maybe you'd like it better if they all went home between fires- since it only takes 5 minutes for a house to burn to the ground. And it takes even less time than that to die of smoke inhalation or burns.

Next time you have a car accident or a house fire, be sure and specify that you don't want firefighters that are already at the firehouse- you have no problem waiting for 45 minutes for them to get to you.

But 3g, since you think firefighting is so easy and so cushy, you try it. One fire and you'd collapse. Pull those heavy fire hoses filled with water. Hold a nozzle with hundreds of pounds of water pressure. See how you feel afterwards.

(To the firefighters and their families reading this, my son was an Army firefighter. Posts like 3g's are disgusting. All of you are heroes- you run towards the fire, when everyone else runs away.)

Just Another Day
0
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Just Another Day 07/25/10 - 12:00 pm
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some of these posters are

some of these posters are ignorant......EVERYBODY is qick to make jokes about civil servants but NOBODY is rushing to city hall to pick up an application. These posters go back to their $4.00 lattes and plasma tv's and ADT security systems and live in their rosed colored world that these low wage civil servants bust their butts everyday to help keep them buying lattes.

God bless all law enforcement, EMS, firefighters, and animal control officers and of course all our military.....

sjgraci
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sjgraci 07/25/10 - 12:23 pm
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Why not administer an annual

Why not administer an annual PT test based off of the military. The tests are not that hard to pass if you are in decent enough shape. Have you seen some of the animals that work for RCSO? They'd have no problem maxing any PT test. Same with some of the firefighters I know. No doubt there are some who would need remedial PT, a good thing.

corgimom
33859
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corgimom 07/25/10 - 02:26 pm
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Because the requirements for

Because the requirements for a firefighter are different- they are tougher. There is a big difference between a firefighter and a soldier.

My son went through basic training and passed no problem. THEN he went to firefighters school.

It was far more strenuous.

momster59
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momster59 07/25/10 - 03:29 pm
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Firefighters do a LOT more

Firefighters do a LOT more when not fighting fires than watch TV. My son is a firefighter and I have occasionally dropped something for him at the his station. I cannot speak for all stations, but everyone in his is in shape and they are constantly working on training, maintaining equipment or studying. They are not allowed to so much as nap before 7 p.m. and will often end their shifts having had very little sleep due to fighting a large fire and the followup and cleanup afterward. They risk their lives every time they go to work for very little monetary reward. Your tax dollars are not being misspent.

sjgraci
2
Points
sjgraci 07/25/10 - 05:34 pm
0
0
"Requirements tougher"?

"Requirements tougher"? That's a joke right? Where did your son go through basic training and what was his job?

That is very likely the difference right there. Many jobs in the military are equally as strenuos and more so than police and firefighting, many are not. The point is, it is not hard to pass a military PT test when you are in shape, especially in basic when your young and PT is all you are doing. It is hard to pass the PT test if you are out of shape and that is the point of the article. Even if you are in great shape, it's tough to max the PT test.

Taylor B
5
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Taylor B 07/25/10 - 09:20 pm
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I can tell you as a former

I can tell you as a former fireman and a former Marine, the military was tougher for me. Different services have different standards.

I respect anyone willing to put up with the pay and hours to serve our city. You have to love a job that is difficult to love, and serve people that you wouldn't spit on otherwise. I will add teachers to the mix as well.

PalmettoSon
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PalmettoSon 07/26/10 - 01:19 am
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During Sheriff Sellers'

During Sheriff Sellers' command, the Aiken County Sheriff's Office had an annual physical fitness assesment that was mandatory for every sworn Deputy. Each Deputy was required to complete a timed two mile run as well as complete their maximum number of push-ups and sit-ups in 60 seconds. Each event was scored and every Deputy's combined overall score was posted throughout the office for everyone to see. There was a minimum score that had to be achieved and any Deputy who failed to meet the minimum standard was given 30 days to brings themselves up to standard or face disciplinary action, up to and including termination. Sheriff Hunt ended that policy as soon as he took office.

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