By Rich Marinucci
When I accepted a new job a little more than five years ago, I began a new route to work. I soon discovered that there was a group of runners along my path almost every morning. There are usually somewhere between three and seven runners, and I would guess that their ages are mid 30s to 40s. It does not matter the time of year or the weather conditions. For most of the year, it is dark in the morning when I drive to work. As such, I am very conscious that they will be somewhere, so I am on the lookout as the darkness does not always make them visible until I am sometimes very close.
Now these runners are far from world class, and I would guess by their pace that they are running for the “fun” of it, to get exercise, and maybe even socialize a bit. I have no idea how long their route may be on any given day or the pace at which they go for the entire run. I can only guess at their motivation as I have never stopped to ask.
I was especially impressed this past week when temperatures were below zero and I passed the group. They were bundled up and running in the street as the sidewalks were covered with snow yet to be removed. My vehicle is not quite warmed up by the time I see the runners so I am questioning the motivation, and maybe even the sanity, of this almost daily routine. With a little more time to drive to work I have time to ponder this question.
I think there are many reasons to stay in a warm bed and not venture out in what many would consider brutal conditions. There must be another way to get exercise in a more controlled environment. Why not even take a couple days off to let the weather improve (although a week or so later it hasn’t)? Something must be driving the individuals, and it is not money, fame, or probably not even a job requirement. Ultimately, it has to be about their individual health and wellbeing. This must make them feel better. After all this time, they must think their day is not right without the regular run. It has become their lifestyle and routine.
How can this apply to the fire service? We all know that firefighting requires physical ability to do the job properly. We also know that the leading cause of line-of-duty deaths (LODDs) is cardiac-related. We also know that there are many firefighters who, at one time appeared to be in a healthy state, are now overweight and out of condition. Their livelihood should be based on their ability to execute their duties to the best of their abilities when an emergency strikes. Others are relying on them, including their fellow firefighters and the public they serve. Their families and loved ones are also counting on them to come home at the end of the call or shift.
Departments can create environments that encourage better fitness. They can outfit workout facilities or arrange opportunities with other exercise businesses friendly to the fire service. The leadership can set a good example personally and through policies and procedures developed in partnership with employee groups. But even with all of this, a truly healthy work group with 100 percent buy-in from the entire staff cannot be accomplished without individual motivation. I don’t know the occupation of the individuals in the running group I observe almost every morning. I would guess that it is irrelevant to the motivation of those running—many times in less than ideal conditions.
In my “perfect” world, all of the members in the fire service would be motivated to stay as healthy as possible of their own volition to take care of themselves, their coworkers, and the people they serve. If this were the case I would safely predict that the number of LODDs would be greatly reduced. There would be additional benefits of fewer injuries, less sick time usage, and faster recovery when injuries do occur. One could also expect an improvement in service as those delivering it would be in better condition to deliver it. If only I could figure out what makes those morning runners tick and bottle it. The fire service would be much better, and I could retire from the profits of my discovery!
RICHARD MARINUCCI is chief of the Northville Township (MI) Fire Department. He retired as chief of the Farmington Hills (MI) Fire Department in 2008, a position he had held since 1984. He is a Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment editorial advisory board member, a past president of the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC), and past chairman of the Commission on Chief Fire Officer Designation. In 1999, he served as acting chief operating officer of the U.S. Fire Administration for seven months. He has a master’s degree and three bachelor’s degrees in fire science and administration and has taught extensively.
By Rich Marinucci