US Army to adopt gender- and age-neutral fitness test

“We think the success of this study can transfer over to law enforcement, wildland firefighters, and other federal agencies,” said an instructor about a training program they have devised to prepare ROTC personnel for the Army test.

Some people have said that the Pack Test version of the Work Capacity Test required for many wildland firefighters in the United States does not adequately reflect the tasks performed on the job. Criticisms are that it has a bias toward individuals with long legs and does not sufficiently address flexibility, strength, speed, coordination, and agility. Others disagree, saying it can weed out those unfit for the job.

We created a poll on the subject:

The U.S. Army has developed a new Fitness Test that is reported to be gender- and age-neutral. To prepare and train their ROTC personnel for the test Colorado State University has designed a training regimen. Perhaps the federal land management agencies could glean some ideas from either the Army Fitness test or the training program being developed by CSU.

Below is an excerpt from an article on Colorado State University’s web site:


For more than 30 years, the U.S. Army has tested the strength and endurance of its soldiers through a battery of pushups, sit-ups and a two-mile run known as the Army Physical Fitness Test.

But soon the Army will replace this legacy test with a new gender- and age-neutral assessment consisting of six events — deadlifts, farmer’s carries, sled pulls and much more — that will impact personnel around the globe as well as right here at Colorado State University.

To prepare for the change coming in October 2020, CSU’s Army ROTC program is part of a pioneering study with the Department of Health and Exercise Science that examines the most effective training plans for the new Army Combat Fitness Test.

Lt. Col. Troy Thomas, commander of Army ROTC programs at CSU and the University of Northern Colorado, has personally endorsed the study and encouraged his cadre to pursue the most effective protocol for the 150 cadets, 28% of whom are female.

“On average, we have about seven contact hours per week with our cadets, and less than half of those hours are dedicated to physical fitness,” he said. “What we discover as the best protocol will elicit the most efficient and effective results of those three hours to achieve our scholar-athlete-leader outcomes.”

The research so far suggests hybrid training as the most effective option, and it has attracted attention and support from the U.S. Army and U.S. Department of Defense. According to the researchers involved in the study, it also could have a profound impact in helping U.S. Army Cadet Command prescribe fitness regimens to help ROTC cadets train for the new test.

“Colorado State is at the cutting edge of producing a combat fitness protocol for a very select population,” said Al Armonda, a CSU military science instructor who helped lead the study. “This falls well within our land-grant mission in filling a gap in the force that the Army needs.”

The new Army Combat Fitness Test consists of a series of six challenges designed to better connect certain fitness aspects with combat readiness such as strength, endurance, power, speed, agility, balance, flexibility, coordination and reaction time.

But for Army ROTC programs across the country, this presents a challenge.

An active-duty soldier can schedule four or five 70- to 90-minute training sessions in a typical week. For an ROTC cadet, Armonda said finding the time to properly train for the new fitness test can be difficult as they are first and foremost students.

In spring 2019, ROTC leadership and Armonda’s research team conducted a first-of-its-kind study comparing and contrasting several Army Combat Fitness Test training regimens.

The 10-week pilot study with 30 cadets showed strong evidence that a full-body, hybrid training approach — aerobic and anaerobic training, weight-lifting, body-weight exercises, plyometrics and high-intensity intervals — is far more effective than the traditional training regimens that focus solely on muscular endurance and aerobic exercise.

[…]

Department of Defense officials recently visited CSU to observe the training program and learn how they can provide support and assistance. Additional workout equipment, some of which has already been procured, is necessary as the new test requires deadlift bars, kettlebells and pullup stations. And researchers are currently launching a more robust study with 60 cadets for more statistical power.

Armonda said that the study has additional applications beyond the Army, noting that it can also be beneficial to first responders, many of whom start their careers in the U.S. military.

“Because of the constricted time frame that we have to actually complete these fitness requirements, we think the success of this study can transfer over to law enforcement, wildland firefighters and other federal agencies,” Armonda said…


Click here to see the entire article, including photos and videos.

California passes bills boosting mental health support for firefighters

The legislation addresses peer support and treatment for post-traumatic stress

Legion Lake Fire South Dakota
A firefighter at the Legion Lake Fire in Custer State Park, South Dakota, December 13, 2019. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

Yesterday the Governor of California signed into law two pieces of legislation that can improve support for the mental health of firefighters.

The California Firefighter Peer Support and Crisis Referral Services Act authorizes state, local, and regional public fire agencies to establish a Peer Support and Crisis Referral Program to provide an agency-wide network of peer representatives available to aid fellow employees with emotional or professional issues. The bill also provides that emergency services personnel have a right to refuse to disclose, and to prevent another from disclosing, a confidential communication between the emergency service personnel and a peer support team member, crisis hotline staff member, or crisis referral service.

A second bill, SB-542 Workers’ Compensation, classifies post-traumatic stress as an “injury”, like conventional physical injuries. This will allow compensation for hospital stays, surgery, medical treatment, disability indemnity, and death benefits.

The bills do not apply to federal employees, with a few exceptions for some NASA and Department of Defense firefighters in the state.

These bills are a step toward recognizing presumptive diseases or injuries that when suffered by a firefighter are presumed to be an on the job injury, and would be treated as such. Montana, British Columbia, Washington, and other jurisdictions have presumptive disease programs for firefighters. Of course the key is the list of diseases that are covered. Listing one or two would leave out the eight or ten others that can be caused by serving the public as a firefighter.

NIOSH is studying the health effects of fighting wildfires

firefighters health study
Screenshot from the firefighters health study video below.

This is the second year of a multi-year study that is following six crews and taking health data from them on fires as well as at the beginning and end of the fire seasons.

The video provides a brief overview of this new approach to examine the potential health effects that wildland firefighters may experience working on wildland fires. This effort is a collaboration between the National Institute for Occupation Safety and Health (NIOSH), the U.S. Forest Service, and the National Park Service. As you will see in the video, a NIOSH team actually goes into the field on a wildfire in Idaho to test members of the Sawtooth Interagency Hotshot Crew on potential impacts to their overall health, including effects to their hearts, lungs, kidneys, and hearing. As results of this effort are made available, the Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center will share them.

Jon Stewart scolds Congress regarding reauthorizing the 9/11 victims compensation fund

Blasts ’empty chair’ lawmakers

Senate Judiciary Committee Jon Stewart
While testifying during a June 11, 2019 hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Jon Stewart (at lower left) turns away for a second from the empty Senators’ chairs to look at the first responders in the audience. Screen grab from CNN video. Click to enlarge.

Since at least 2010 Jon Stewart, formerly of the Daily Show, has been striving to get Congress to provide adequate health care for the firefighters and other first responders that fought the fires and assisted victims after the World Trade Center towers were attacked by terrorists in 2001.

This morning he appeared again before the Senate Judiciary Committee to encourage Senators to approve the bill that will be voted on tomorrow, June 12. Every few years the legislation that funds health care for the 9/11 first responders suffering from cancer and other diseases expires, and the fight to do the right thing must be reintroduced and refought. The bill now pending will make health care for the 9/11 first responders permanent.

You will see in the video how strongly Mr. Stewart feels about this issue.

Here are some quotes from Mr. Stewart’s testimony:

This hearing should be flipped. These men and women should be up on that stage and Congress should be down here answering their questions as to why this is so damn hard and takes so damn long.

Setting aside, no American should face financial ruin because of a health issue.

Certainly 9/11 first responders shouldn’t have to decide whether to live or to have a place to live.

They responded in 5 seconds. They did their job with courage, grace, tenacity, humility — 18 years later, DO YOURS.

 

Below is an excerpt from an article at The Sun, published September 11, 2018:

In the following days [after the attacks on 9/11], people from every state – and almost every single district – of America helped at Ground Zero – rescuing casualties, digging up bodies, cleaning up and rebuilding.

Now they are paying a high price for their selflessness – while most of the world remains oblivious to their suffering.

Over 2,000 first responders – anyone who helped out at Ground Zero, including building workers, electricians, doctors and paramedics – have died from illnesses caused by breathing in the toxic fumes that engulfed the site in the weeks after the terror attack.

As thousands more currently battle 9/11-related diseases such as cancer or severe respiratory disease, shockingly, it’s predicted that by the end of this year the number of first responders who have died since the tragic event will overtake the number who died on the day…

All articles on Wildfire Today that mention Jon Stewart and the 9/11 Victims Compensation Fund.

Researchers find prescribed fire smoke to be less harmful than that from wildfires

Therefore, prescribed fires to protect communities can protect residents in more ways than one

Wolf Trap National park prescribed fire
Prescribed fire at Wolf Trap National Park, April, 2018. NPS photo by Nathan King.

Researchers studying the effects of smoke on children found prescribed fire smoke to be less harmful than smoke from wildfires. The Stanford University study looked at three groups of children:

  • Those who were exposed to smoke from a prescribed fire;
  • Children exposed to smoke from a wildfire in which no structures burned; and,
  • Children that were not exposed to smoke.

Sometimes fire personnel refer to a prescribed fire as “good fire”. Now they may call smoke from a planned burn as “good smoke”. A way to look at this research is that removing hazardous fuels near a community is a way to reduce the threat of a wildfire spreading into the town and burning structures or entrapping and killing people. And, removing the fuels with good fire rather than allowing a wildfire to burn the same area, exposes residents to less harmful smoke. For fire-prone areas, it is not IF it burns, it’s WHEN. Do you want your smoke now under controlled conditions or later, possibly under extreme conditions?

From Stanford University:


…The study was published May 30 in the European Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. It was conducted in Fresno, California, a city with high air pollution levels due to its topography and other sources, including traffic and agriculture.

“This study suggests that exposure to wildfire smoke is detrimental above and beyond poor air quality,” said the lead author, Mary Prunicki, MD, PhD, an instructor of medicine.

The study’s senior author is Kari Nadeau, MD, PhD, professor of medicine and of pediatrics and director of the Sean N. Parker Center for Allergy & Asthma Research at Stanford.

Native Americans traditionally used controlled burns to manage California’s forests, but throughout the early 20thcentury, wildfires were widely suppressed. This began to change in the 1960s and 1970s, when scientists recognized fire as a normal part of forest ecology. Recent wildfires have brought more attention to the possible benefits of prescribed burns as a way to reduce fuel levels and wildfire risk, but not everyone is enthusiastic.

Opposition to controlled burns
“We know that there’s some public opposition to doing prescribed burning,” Prunicki said. “It’s our feeling that prescribed burning, because it’s so controlled, may expose people to fewer health effects than wildfires.” Prescribed burns are of lower intensity and are permitted only when weather conditions allow the fire to be contained.

In the study, the researchers compared blood samples from three groups of children, all of whom were 7 or 8 years old. One group of 32 children had been exposed to smoke from a 553-acre prescribed burn that occurred in March 2015; a second group of 36 children had been exposed to smoke from a 415-acre wildfire in September 2015. Both fires were about 70 miles away from Fresno, and blood samples were collected from the children within three months of each fire.

The study also included blood samples from a control group of 18 children who lived in the San Francisco Bay Area and had not been exposed to wildfire or prescribed-burn smoke.

The researchers measured air pollution levels recorded at four monitoring stations in Fresno and estimated pollution levels at the children’s homes during the fires based on how far they lived from the stations.

Pollutant exposures were higher in the wildfire group compared to the prescribed-burn group.  The air pollutants measured included nitrogen dioxide, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, elemental carbon, carbon monoxide and particulate matter.

Wildfire smoke exposure was associated with lower blood levels of type-1 T helper cells, a group of immune cells that are involved in the immune response. Among children exposed to wildfire smoke, the researchers also saw increased methylation of the Foxp3 gene, indicating reduced activity of this gene, which is broadly involved in modulating allergic and other immune responses. The finding of greater Foxp3 methylation is congruent with earlier studies of the effects of air pollution on the immune system, Prunicki noted.

Significance of particulate matter
One important aspect of the study was that the September 2015 wildfire was confined to forested areas and did not burn any structures.

“Particulate matter from wildfires is different from region to region and depends on what is burning,” Prunicki said. “When a wildfire is going through a town, there are a lot of concerns about what happens to the chemicals in people’s homes and cars when they go up in flames.” Smoke from wildfires that burn inhabited areas almost certainly has worse health effects than those found in the current study, she said.

The researchers plan to conduct larger, more detailed studies of the effects of wildfire smoke on health. They will be enrolling healthy people in a trial at Stanford later this summer to collect baseline data from blood samples. When future wildfires affect Bay Area air quality, the participants will be asked to provide follow-up blood samples.

The scientists also plan to research the health effects of using home air purifiers during wildfires, as well as measure the protection offered by N95 masks, with the aim of developing recommendations for when masks should be used by different populations, such as healthy adults, elderly people, children and people with chronic illnesses.

The study’s other Stanford co-authors are biostatistician Justin Lee; life science researcher Xiaoying Zhou, PhD; Francois Haddad, MD, clinical associate professor of medicine; and Joseph Wu, MD, PhD, professor of medicine and of radiology.

Montana becomes 49th state with some form of presumptive care for firefighters

Montana Governor to sign legislation today

With the passage of Senate Bill 160 Montana becomes the 48th state with some form of presumptive care for firefighters.

The Firefighters Protection Act lists 12 presumptive diseases for which it would be easier for a firefighter to file a workers’ compensation claim if they served a certain number of years:

  • Bladder cancer, 12 years
  • Brain cancer, 10 years
  • Breast cancer, 5 years
  • Myocardial infarction, 10 years
  • colorectal cancer, 10 years
  • Esophageal cancer, 10 years
  • Kidney cancer, 15 years
  • Leukemia, 5 years
  • Mesothelioma or asbestosis, 10 years
  • Multiple myeloma, 15 years
  • Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, 15 years
  • Lung cancer, 4 years

The bill applies to volunteers and local fire departments in Montana, but not to federal firefighters. It is unclear if it affects those employed by the state government.

The federal government has not established a presumptive disease program for their 15,000 wildland firefighters.

At a bill signing ceremony Thursday afternoon Governor Bullock will issue a proclamation ordering flags to be displayed at half-staff in honor of all Montana firefighters who have lost their lives from a job-related illness in the line of duty.

Governor Proclamation Montana firefighters


In a related story from April 12, “British Columbia may expand firefighter occupational disease coverage to wildland firefighters”