The Sports Science of Firefighting: A 5 Part Series

It seemed like a good weekend to share Part 4 of 5 on the sports science of firefighting, since we had a house fire in Huntington Bay yesterday and a situational drill this morning out at Yaphank Training Academy. Been a big weekend for my small Long Island department! 

Today's story: Bigger Isn't Better. Jimmy Connors, Andre Agassi, Roger Federer.... most of us have heard of these tennis stars and enjoyed them on Primetime US Open. How about Ryan Harrison. Heard of him? Likely not. Does he look like the tennis beast of the 21st century? Negative. But this guy clocks one of the fastest tennis serves on the planet. Check it out in SloMo:  

The intriguing thing about Ryan Harrison is that he's normal guy sized. At 6'2", 185 lbs, he's not an ultra-man squashing the tennis ball like an ant. He just deploys one of the most technically accurate and torque-filled motions in the business. What matters is not his size and muscle mass. Instead, the timing with which his racquet snaps at the ball, the speed of his footwork, and the movement of his hips and shoulders unleash his power and momentum that fuel the ball's speed and acceleration. I SloMoed this for you so that you can actually see it!!

Moral of the story? Bigger isn't always better. 

In athletic pursuits, and industrial professions, often it is stamina, mental toughness, flexibility, stability under weight-load, and body awareness, over merely strength, that combine to create the best performers. This rule is paramount to firefighting. Under an average of 60 lbs of weight (and that's just wearable gear and O2 tank), the biggest guys suffer. Hauling charged hose line up 2 flights of stairs and around a corner, staying low on hands and needs, prove onerous for muscle men.

I might be biased standing at 5'3" 130 lbs, but you should take inspiration from that! When you're not able to solve challenges with muscle, you must get smarter, more efficient, and more stable. 

Nothing speaks efficiency like The Fridge Delivery

Have you ever had an appliance dropped off by a tiny delivery person with a shoulder harness? Take a gander at these guys: 

These guys aren't defensive linemen. They employ the strongest muscles in their body, balance, a simple harness, and the rules of physics and leverage to pick up weight and travel distance with it. I once met an appliance delivery guy in Colorado who was amped about losing 40 lbs once he took the job. Good for you man! 

No better example of small-man power than The Karate Chop

My final example of the "bigger isn't better" mantra is the concrete karate chop.  The same concept applies here. This guy is not heftier than your average joe, but his power to perform a specific task knows know bounds when he combines technique, focus, body positioning, and timing. 

To the firefighter, size isn't what matters 

Consider what we do as firefighters -- hoist ladders, haul hose line up stairs, drag limp victims out windows or along a hallway, pop open sealed doors. None of these activities is perfectly balanced or prepared. Weight is loaded onto the body off-center. Actions happen quickly and sometimes without much warning. The ability to load and carry weight efficiently, move effectively under pressure, and maintain a strong mind is what develops powerful firefighters. Not size and big muscles. Here's one technique for a fast-moving victim carry that demonstrates these principles: 

Another set of GIFs showcases the same for raising a ladder, hoisting a ventilation and overhaul tool, tackling a flight of stairs on air, and performing search team maneuvers. When you watch a truck team on the fireground, it quickly becomes clear that bigger isn't better. Sure, height helps with ladders and pike poles, and muscular strength helps to hold forcible entry tools and stabilize hose lines.

But stamina comes from smart management of your body and the weight it's carrying. And that opens the door to anyone, of any size, who's committed to training it!