Five firefighters are running, lifting and sweating in a brightly lit workout room.
Nestled into the corner of the Langford Fire Hall on Peatt Road, they crack jokes, offer up a friendly banter, exercising in blue t-shirts emblazoned with Langford Fire Rescue across their backs.
For more than a month, these firefighters have been in competition mode, in a firefighter’s fitness challenge between themselves and (so far) the Metchosin, Sooke/Otter Point, Oak Bay and Sidney departments. They’re focusing not only on pumping water onto fires, but also pumping iron in the gym.
“In a time when most of us are a little lax on our fitness, (this) really encouraged us to keep up to date on our fitness throughout Christmas and beginning of the new year,” said Assistant Chief Chris Aubrey. “We record how many hours we’re doing the fitness activities and compare notes with the rest of the departments and see who wins at the end of the day.”
Aubrey, one of 15 Langford firefighters who stepped up to the plate when the Metchosin Fire Department put the challenge forward, said there was more interest than spots available and the benefits were many.
“If we’re able to work together as a group and improve, collectively, the fitness level of all the local fire departments, then we’re all going to be able to provide a better service,” he said. “To have really fit, well-trained firefighters in your community to help you out in your time of need is certainly going to be an asset and a benefit to the community.”
The challenge, which involves 60 firefighters, is a “healthy competition” in more ways than one, Aubrey said, pointing to the good work being done by staff and volunteers in the neighbouring Metchosin department.
“I know that they have really been working hard over the past couple years. They have a new gym in their fire hall and they’ve been encouraging their members to get more physically active,” he said. “It’s great to see them take that momentum in their department and spill it over to other departments that are interested in getting involved.”
That enthusiasm not only rekindled an interest in fitness in Langford members, it fuelled their competitive spirit.
“They want to win,” Aubrey said of his workmates. “Healthy competition in this regard is good, and it is a healthy competition because it is for our own personal health … It’s more than bragging rights.”
Metchosin Fire Chief Stephanie Dunlop said WorkSafe requires forms of fitness and wellness programs. And in a profession where heart attacks are one of the number one causes of death, a high level of fitness is key.
“We could be walking up a big hill with a hoseline and that is a huge exertion. Ninety-nine per cent (of volunteer firefighters) work a full day and now they get a call at 2 a.m. during rest, and all of a sudden their body is forced into action,” she said. “That’s a lot of stress on the body and the more fit they are, the less stress on their body and heart.”
Dunlop has noticed a difference in herself, feeling stronger when she is first on the scene and forced to climb up areas, she is no longer as out of breath and is more able to stay focused on the task at hand.
“The bar is set high for fitness in our department now and everyone has jumped on board. It’s not just being in the gym and bulking up,” she said.
While she believes the program benefits everyone from the firefighters and their families to the communities, she offered up a friendly note to the other departments involved.
“People always want to win and that’s why we set up this challenge, so we can compete and encourage other departments … especially when you have mutual aid department like Langford,” she said. “It’s going to be really heartbreaking (for a larger department like them) to lose to a little department like us.”