Grant helps keep firefighters physically fit |

Grant helps keep firefighters physically fit

Reid Williams
Summit Daily/Reid WilliamsLake Dillon firefighter Paul Chessin works out in the exercise room at the department's Frisco station Saturday. Thanks to a federal grant, the fire department will be able to buy new fitness equipment.

SUMMIT COUNTY – People might assume that, when firefighters die in the line of duty, it usually happens in the smoke and flames to which they respond. But it doesn’t – not usually.

The leading cause of firefighter death on the job, says Lake Dillon Fire-Rescue assistant chief Jeff Berino, citing industry statistics, is heart attack as a result of exertion. The second leading cause is traffic accidents while en route to or returning from a call, Berino said; traumatic injury in a fire comes in third.

It makes sense, then, for fire chiefs to keep their crews in shape. And, in fact, rigorous physical fitness tests are part of the screening process before a firefighter gets hired. In addition, Berino said, local fire departments require men and women to work out some time during each of their 24-hour shifts, as well as undergo regular, intensive physical exams and fitness tests.

Each fire department has an in-house exercise room for firefighters to keep in shape, and now, thanks to a federal grant, Lake Dillon firefighters will be getting some new fitness equipment. Berino announced Friday the department had received a highly competitive grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for $21,597.

“At the Dillon and Frisco stations, we have some free weights and nautilus-style equipment,” said Berino, known in the county for his participation in ultra-endurance running races. “But the treadmills are broken, and other equipment has problems. That’s expensive equipment. This will allow us to round out the cardiovascular portion of our program.”

The fitness tests firefighters are put through feature what might seem to be quirky events to the general public. But recent interest in extreme sports has put firefighter “Olympics” on ESPN – featuring events such as carrying 50 pounds of hose up three flights of stairs, dragging 175-pound dummies and navigating a maze on hands and knees in full equipment.

Berino noted that firefighters who enlist for wildfire duty and training face even more strenuous work – and given Summit County’s environment (altitude and forest), physical fitness is even more important. Wildland firefighters must pass fitness tests administered by the U.S. Forest Service.

Fire departments also try to make sure firefighters eat well to complement their exercise regimen. Berino said the department regularly distributes information from nutritionists and encourages the firefighters to cook at the station instead of eating out.

Firefighters said Saturday they were pleased to hear new equipment will be on the way soon.

“It’s good news,” said Ryan Peters, stationed in Frisco. “They make sure we stay in shape, and it’s good for us to blow off steam. So new equipment is great.”

Reid Williams can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 237, or

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