Groundwork Athletics is pleased to be offering fitness programs to all of Vancouver's Finest!
Vancouver fire department Capt. Gabe Roder works out in the makeshift gym at Fire Hall No. 1 Friday. Council is to vote next week on plans to buy new gym gear
Vancouver's 750 or so firefighters will be watching Tuesday to see if city council agrees that having them in top physical shape is worth the price of supplying every fire hall with modern fitness and exercise equipment.
The money -- $414,000 -- will also pay for a program to train some firefighters as fitness instructors to help their comrades get the most out of the equipment.
The city's share would be half -- $207,000 -- with Vancouver Firefighters Union Local 18 picking up the rest.
"We certainly hope they approve it," said union president Gord Ditchburn, a firefighter at No. 3 Hall at 12th and Quebec.
Other fire departments in Metro Vancouver such as Burnaby and Coquitlam already supply exercise equipment, Ditchburn said.
"Vancouver won't be unique. Virtually ever other department except Vancouver supplies some form of exercise equipment," he said.
"The benefits are obvious. If you have fit, strong firefighters they will perform better at the scene, there will be less injuries, less WCB claims, less sick-time off."
Ditchburn said that wasn't a criticism of the state of fitness of the department as a whole -- which he said is good -- but as personnel get older, they need constant workouts to keep in shape.
He said the union has looked after that in the past. Each of the city's fire halls has its own improvised gym, mostly containing antiquated equipment bought and paid for by the union. And it's up to each firefighter to keep him- or herself fit.
Until 2007, this self-motivated exercise was combined with playing basketball or handball near the fire hall while on shift, Ditchburn said.
But in 2007, the union was advised that firefighters would not be allowed to participate in such games because a number were being injured, causing them to miss work.
A report by city manager Penny Ballem recommends that 22 treadmills and 22 elliptical trainers be provided to the city's fire halls.
"The nature of firefighting and emergency rescue work requires staff to engage in periods of strenuous physical labour," her report said.
"They are inevitably required to carry out their duties at a moment's notice. ... Firefighters perform their work without the benefit of an actual warm-up period and, as a result, face increased risk of injury."
Ballem said the ban on games had frustrated firefighters, who were using worn-out fitness equipment supplied by the union.
The report said fire departments that adopted a formal fitness regimen had seen a 28-per-cent reduction in lost work days.
The union has hired Groundworks Athletics to design a fitness program and the plan is to train 80 firefighters as coaches so the program will be available at all times.
"When people come into the department they are in tremendous shape, but if you don't have the ability to work out you lose that," Ditchburn said.
"This program isn't about getting guys 40 pounds overweight into shape. It's about keeping fitness levels up."