Resiliency / Wellness


A common issue in the fire service is balancing the need of the individual with the need of the group. No place is this more apparent than with a department wide wellness/resiliency program. While the benefit of a well-orchestrated individualized program is difficult to argue against, accounting for the strength and conditioning, nutrition, and stress management needs for all is a daunting task. With the goal of optimizing health and job performance every individual will have specific needs and it is important they discern those needs and take it upon themselves to ensure they are met. The department can provide the framework common to every employee and support him or her in his or her efforts but individual responsibility will always be the key. The common components of the framework provided are as follows:


–       Physical Training. Department policy dictates that employees will participate in physical training during their shift and encourages participation while off shift. Physical training programs will include conditioning (aerobic/anaerobic work capacity), strength, strength endurance, and flexibility. The order and emphasis of these elements is where the individual variation becomes important. Employees should focus on shoring up weaknesses instead of continuing to develop strengths. The focus should be to achieve a base level of conditioning then improve strength, then strength endurance, all the while developing flexibility and maintaining conditioning. If training while off shift ensure adequate recovery before returning for the next shift.

–       Adequate Nutrition and Hydration. Every employee must eat enough quality food and drink enough water to support their level of activity. The total caloric intake and macronutrient breakdown (carbohydrate, protein, and fat) will need to be adjusted for each individual to ensure recovery and adequate fueling. Protein can be set between .7 grams and 1 gram per pound of lean body mass, then think of carbohydrate and fat as separate fuel tanks. The carbohydrate tank is small but full of racing fuel; it allows for peak performance but it burns off faster than it can be refilled. It is the primary source of fuel for the brain and things fall apart when the tank gets low so conservation is key. The fat tank is where we keep the diesel, one fraction away from crude oil; this fuel source is slow and steady. From a strictly caloric perspective there is enough energy in one pound of body fat to easily run the system for a day and a half. The more adept the body is at switching back and forth between the carbohydrate tank and fat tank the better; allowing for a blend of sustained energy from fat stores and short bursts of intense energy from carbohydrate. Mental and physical performance each day is anchored by the evening meal and hydration level of the previous day.


–       Adequate Sleep. The importance of sleep cannot be overstated. Humans can go weeks without food, days without water, but only about 36 hours without sleep before things start to go wrong. Some people claim to thrive on as little as 4-6 hours of sleep per day but studies have shown, while they might feel fine, their cognitive ability is significantly reduced. A problematic part of this process is that the less sleep we get the less able we are to judge how well we are functioning; the same holds true for the cumulative effect of multiple nights of interrupted sleep. All of this lost sleep is referred to as sleep debt and studies have shown the best way to pay it back is in 20-minute naps, 4-hour naps, and full night’s sleep. The cycle of cumulative sleep loss will start again the first day of each shift. It is paramount that employees start their shift with zero sleep debt.


–       Stress Management. Of all the individual factors stress has to be the most confusing. Like sleep debt, it is cumulative and difficult to measure when increased slowly. Without enough we cease to adapt to our environment and with too much we are susceptible to everything from clinical depression to physical manifestations like hives. Picture a scorecard with stressors in one column and stress reducers in the other. Individuals must balance the two columns on a daily basis according to their individual priorities. Keep in mind that many things, exercise for example, can fall in either column depending on the dose.  Studies show that those who are physically and mentally prepared for the stress and impact of this job cope better than those who are exposed to the stressor and treated after the fact. This preparation starts with 8 hours of quality sleep and continues throughout the day as smart physical training, good nutrition, fire ground drills, and a healthy social environment. Making an effort to reduce the stress of off duty life will make room for the inevitable stressors on duty.


The underlying theme with this common framework is that wellness/resiliency is a series of cyclical patterns; constantly recovering from the last and preparing for the next.

Off Season

Develop Strength / Strength Endurance -> Maintain Conditioning

Maintain Strength / Strength Endurance <- Develop Conditioning

            On Season


Off Duty

Pay Sleep Debt>Intense PT>Reduce Stress>Recover>Hydrate>Eat Well

Eat Well<Hydrate<Recover<Reduce Stress<Smart PT<Optimize Sleep

On Duty



Get Morning Sun>Smart PT>Eat Real Food>Hydrate>Sleep in the Dark

Sleep in the Dark<Hydrate<Eat Real Food<Smart PT<Get Morning Sun


2 Responses to Resiliency / Wellness

  1. Jeffery says:

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  2. Telma says:

    We are Primal/Paleo with some raw dairy. Our 16 month old has had raw milk since just before she ternud one (and I started working). We introduced it along with nursing, and she gradually weaned over about three months, and has been fully weaned for about four weeks now. It all happened very naturally, as she was used to drinking expressed milk from a cup so there was no issue with her feeling deprived of the boob! She drinks milk with meals and before bed, and water throughout the day.Along with everything we eat, she eats a ton of sweet potatoes, peeled and roasted in bacon fat in chunks. She’s also a big fan of liver.We live in London, UK and are very fortunate to have an excellent source of raw milk; we buy it in the farmers’ market but they also delivery all over the country.

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