Brian Sharkey featured in Missoulian article

Dr. Brian Sharkey, center, receives the IAWF Wildland Fire Safety award from Dr. Marty Alexander, previous recipient and on the right, and IAWF President Chuck Bushey. Photo provided by IAWF

You have read about Brian Sharkey of the Missoula Technology and Development Center (MTDC)) previously on Wildfire Today, most recently when the IAWF presented to him their Wildland Fire Safety Award.

Here is an excerpt from an article in the Missoulian:

When Brian Sharkey arrived in Montana back in 1964, he’d never been west of Harrisburg, Pa.

“I was just eager to come West and one thing led to another,” Sharkey said.

His eagerness to migrate west, as well as a timely job opening, served as the beginning of a career spanning more than four decades, studying what he calls “human energy expenditure in the workplace” – mainly pertaining to wildland firefighters.

Last month, the International Association of Wildland Fire awarded Sharkey the 2009 Wildland Safety Award for his work and research over the last 45 years. Sharkey, a fire and aviation project leader for the U.S. Forest Service’s Missoula Technology and Development Center, has studied the physiological stressors and needs of firefighters battling wildfire.

That work provided information for firefighters, and even soldiers, in subjects ranging from which ergonomic tools to use to how much rest a worker needs.

Sharkey, formerly an exercise physiology professor at the University of Montana, spent numerous summers gathering data and studying firefighters in the field. Despite working closely with firefighters, Sharkey and his fellow researchers made a point not to interfere.

“When we send people to collect (the data), we know exactly how not to get in the way,” Sharkey said.

In addition, he prefers that his fellow field workers are able to endure physical strain.

“Everybody who’s working in these projects either has experience as a firefighter or endurance athlete,” Sharkey said, himself a distance runner and ski marathoner.

Sharkey hopes the recognition from the award will help expand the research program between the Missoula Technology and Development Center and UM, as well as provide for projects in the future.

“We’ve now got really good folks at the university who are interested in this kind of work,” Sharkey said. “I think we’ve got it set up where that program will continue.”

However, the reporter, or perhaps the person that gave him the information, got the dates wrong in this excerpt:

[Leslie] Anderson also cited Sharkey’s instrumental role in developing the Work Capacity Test, a test used to determine a firefighter’s level of fitness.

Ken Frederick, public affairs specialist for the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, remembers when the WCT replaced the “step test” in the early 1980s as the standard physical fitness examination.

According to Frederick, the Work Capacity Test, which involves walking three miles with a 45-pound pack within 45 minutes, much more closely mimics a real-life situation for a firefighter than climbing steps.

“It’s a lot more accurate in terms of what a firefighter actually does,” Frederick said.

The Step Test, which was developed by Swedish doctor Per-Olaf Astrand in the 50s, was brought to the the five federal land mangement agencies by Brian Sharkey and others from the MTDC in 1975.  The Step Test was replaced in 1998 by the Work Capacity Test, commonly known as the pack test.

Thanks Dick and Kelly

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