By Amanda Socci
ALEXANDRIA,VA- Imagine the physical challenges and mental pressures that steadily mount on the backs of firefighters.They must routinely be on call and eat, sleep, and stay put in confined quarters for long shifts. They must be ready to move at a moment’s notice to put on safety gear, mount their vehicles, and defuse medical and fire emergencies.
This is the norm for Alexandria Fire Department firefighters, most of whom are also dual-role providers as emergency medical technicians. For many, the lifestyle is also a lifelong commitment to helping people, and last month AFD brought in a wellness group to help the firefighters manage their stress-filled norm at their highest potential.
“It’s a holistic program that includes mindfulness and nutrition,” said Sam Reyes, the acting battalion chief of AFD’s Health, Safety, and Risk Management division. “One of the major benefits is a reduction of injuries. People are more relaxed [after taking the workshop]. They take the knowledge and apply it to the job.”
From Sept. 3-6, Boston-based 02X Human Performance delivered their fifth comprehensive wellness workshop to AFD recruits and Arlington County firefighters. The recruits were there to “tackle job-related health issues such as high injury rates, elevated cancer and cardiac health risks, poor sleep hygiene, and behavioral health issues associated with shift work that firefighters face,” according to an 02X’s media alert.
Safety Through Healthy Habits
02X instructors and specialists delivered the training over the course of four days. Recruits learned strength and conditioning; injury prevention and mental performance; yoga, movement, and resilience training; and nutrition and sleep tips.
The company’s training curriculum was created by a team of former U.S. Navy SEALs, athletes, and psychologists. Back in 2014, the company was hosting summit challenges, with participants racing to the top of mountains, including Mt. Ellen in Sugarbush, Vermont. But while their goal was to push human limits, the company gradually shifted its mindset to improving overall human performance. What resulted was O2X’s EAT SWEAT THRIVE curriculum, which teaches nutrition (EAT), injury prevention and recovery (SWEAT), and an understanding of how the acute and chronic effects of stress affect mental performance (THRIVE).
Learning To Stay Calm Under Pressure
“The class is giving us an outlook on handling information,” said AFD recruit Torie Follett. “This is really beneficial information.”
Former Alexandria Fire Chief Robert C. Dubé introduced the initiative in 2016, after seeing an O2X presentation at a conference in Boston, Massachusetts. Dubé went on to secure grant funding for the program and the following year had the first workshop in Alexandria.
Anthony Washington, the deputy chief of AFD’s Health, Safety and Risk Management DIvision, said that the 02X training is intended for new hires, with workshops presented twice a year to coincide with the start of the eight-month AFD Fire Academy classes.
“I took the workshop in December . It translates from class to the fire department,” Washington said.