By: Ryan Provencher, Firefighter Peak Performance Founder and Executive Fitness Advisor for CRACKYL Magazine
Firefighting is a demanding job that requires us to be response-ready when the call comes in. Unfortunately, many of us experience physical injuries in our careers that send us to the sidelines for an extended period. I have personally experienced this several times over my career, and I have found it helpful to map out the “Return to Firefighting Operations” in 5 Phases.
Phase 1: Acute Injury/Event
The focus in this phase from the physical standpoint is to prevent further damage while managing pain and inflammation. It is also important to consider the mental and emotional impacts of a serious injury. You may experience various stages of grief including denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and ultimately acceptance. It is important to process these feelings so that you may develop a strong mindset and solid plan moving forward.
Phase 2: Physical Therapy
Once you are past the acute phase of injury and are ready to begin physical therapy, I encourage you to consider the “3 Cs”:
Clinical Support – Most of us have access to a wide range of clinical support covered by insurance. Your team may include your personal physician, surgeon, physical therapist, mental health counselor, and coach/personal trainer.
Commitment – Having a team in place to support your comeback is great, but you will still have to do the work. Developing an “athlete’s mindset” may help you commit to doing what is necessary to come back stronger than ever.
Consistency – Coming back from a serious injury is a daunting task. The daily grind of rehab will be grueling and monotonous. Consistency will be key in meeting your short-, intermediate-, and long-term goals.
Phase 3: Physical Training
You have finally been cleared to hit the gym and start building on the progress you have made in physical therapy. It is important that you have a structured exercise program tailored to your specific needs. This is where a qualified coach/personal trainer becomes a critical part of your support team.
Phase 4: Work Hardening
The focus now shifts from general fitness to developing firefighter-specific movements, energy systems, and skills. Exercises will be based on specific firefighting tasks and workouts support strength, conditioning, and recovery. Your periodized physical training program will be “sport specific” to firefighting as you approach the final phase of your return to operations plan.
Phase 5: Response Readiness
Firefighting skills and techniques may require a refresher after an extended absence. This final phase involves skills work, scenario-based training, and self-directed study. It will be important to reinforce the execution of skills, practice decision-making, and ensure familiarity with equipment and procedures.
Please note that these phases are general guidelines. The specific experience, progression, and duration of each phase will vary depending on the injury and individual circumstances. Hopefully, you never find yourself in a situation that requires an extended absence from work, but if you do this progression should help you dial in your mindset, action plan, and support team as you work towards your return to firefighting operations.
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