Maryland Fire Department Fitness Trainer Fights Worker Injuries

July 8, 2008

Tracy Lansaw’s job is to keep county firefighters in shape, but she’s saving their lives as well.

Lansaw is the Anne Arundel County Fire Department’s fitness coordinator, which means she helps them with nutritional education and workout advice. She trains other firefighters to help them keep in shape, which can prevent on-the-job injuries.

“The nature of the job is to respond to emergency situations with little to no preparation and maintain physical endurance and strength for certain periods of time,” said Lansaw, an exercise kinesiologist. “They’re in an extreme-heat environment and everything they do affects them. They need a lot of core stability, so that when they do (activities such as lifting) they’re not susceptible to injuries.”

For example, she knows that back injuries are a common problem for firefighters, since they often have to move equipment at strange angles. Heart problems are also an issue.

The fact that Lansaw’s job exists is a direct result of concern about injuries in the department.

Over the last decade, heart attacks have been the leading fatal injury among firefighters nationwide, according to the U.S. Fire Administration. In Anne Arundel County, six firefighters have died after suffering a heart attack.

In 2006, Division Chief Allen Williams applied for a health and wellness initiative through a federal grant program that helped departments purchase needed equipment, fund fitness training and programs, and hire an exercise kinesiologist.

The department received $800,000, with the county approving a 20 percent match. The grant required that every member of the department have a thorough medical examination, that the department buy some fitness and training equipment, and hire an exercise kinesiologist.

In her time with the department, Lansaw has created a newsletter that is filled with nutritional advice. She visits the different stations and lets them know she’s available and conducts group workouts. She provides one-on-one training for people who may have been out of work for an injury and are trying to ease their way back into the job.

Her job is also to train firefighters to teach other firefighters how to work out. So far, she is training firefighter Jacob Siner and Katie Dennison, a kinesiology intern from Pennsylvania State University.

The grant expired this month, but Lansaw was able to keep her job after Anne Arundel County Executive John Leopold switched it from a grant position to that of a civilian employee within the department.

Firefighters said Lansaw’s efforts are critical. Battalion Chief Matthew Tobia compared the day of a firefighter to going out to exercise without warming up first.

“When those tones go off, our adrenaline immediately starts pumping in our bodies and asking our bodies to go from zero to maximum effort with no warm up,” said Tobia, a fire spokesman. “Over time, that repeated action of stress, relax; stress, relax; stress, relax, leads to many of the factors resulting in heart attacks.”

“Tracy doesn’t run into burning buildings or perform CPR on a drowning victim, but Tracy’s role in saving lives is every bit as critical as every firefighter on the street,” he said.

Siner said his co-workers at the station tease him a bit about his new position as peer fitness trainer, but they do seek him out for advice on how to use certain pieces of equipment.

“I’ve always been interested in fitness. I see how important it is to the fire department and firefighters,” he said. “I’m surprised at all the interest we’re seeing in fitness (from the departments).”

Dennison has also noticed the interest as she visits different stations with Lansaw.

“Most people are coming to me (with questions) versus me having to go to them,” she said. “I think people are proud of a company that’s doing this.”


Information from: The (Annapolis, Md.) Capital,

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