BLM firefighters compete in physical fitness challenge

Billings Veterans Fire Crew
Billings Veterans Fire Crew. (BLM photo by Cody Phillips)

By Karly DeMars, BLM State Fire Planner; and Chris Barth, BLM State Fire Mitigation and Education Specialist

Physical fitness is essential to firefighter performance, mental health, and safety. For example, fatigue has been found to be a contributing factor in many firefighter accidents. To encourage physical fitness, the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) sponsors the annual BLM Fire Operations Fitness Challenge. The voluntary fitness challenge provides a common system by which BLM firefighters can measure current fitness, establish fitness goals, track fitness improvement, and receive recognition for their efforts.

Recently, several BLM Montana/Dakotas wildland firefighters participated in the annual BLM Fire Operations Fitness Challenge. The highest scoring male and female participants in Montana/Dakotas were recognized for their achievements. Both are firefighters from the North Central Montana District and work at the Zortman Fire Station. First-year seasonal firefighter, Jessica Race, was the top female participant and third-year seasonal firefighter, Kevin Henry, was the top male participant. Those participants scoring a Level 4 (300 points) were also recognized for their achievements.

BLM fitness winners
Left: Kevin Henry, a third-year firefighter from North Central Montana District/Zortman Fire Station, displays his award for being the highest achieving male participant in Montana/Dakotas in the 2021 BLM Fire Operations Fitness Challenge. (Photo by Karly DeMars). Right:Jessica Race, a first-year firefighter from North Central Montana District/Zortman Fire Station, carries a chainsaw after completing project work this summer. Jess is the highest achieving female participant in Montana/Dakotas in the 2021 BLM Fire Operations Fitness Challenge. (BLM photo by Jessica Race)

“Firefighter fitness and well-being are the foundation to maintaining a healthy and resilient workforce to meet the demands of the job. BLM Montana/Dakotas encourages all our firefighting staff and partners to participate in high-quality training and fitness activities for the challenges they face,” said Aaron Thompson, BLM Montana/Dakotas State Fire Management Officer. “While the BLM Fire Operations Fitness Challenge is voluntary, Montana/Dakotas firefighters consistently participate in this annual activity, and we are proud of both Kevin and Jessica for their accomplishments.”

The BLM Fire Operations Fitness Challenge tests participants in four basic exercises — push-ups, pull-ups, sit-ups, and a timed run of either 1.5 or 3.0 miles. Participants are evaluated using a point system for each exercise category. Achievement is categorized in level increments where Level 1 is the minimum and Level 5 the maximum fitness level.

Congratulations to all 2021 BLM Fire Operations Fitness Challenge participants!

For more information on BLM’s Fire Operations Fitness Challenge, visit:


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.

Firefighters: four recommendations for eating, drinking, and working out


Dr. Brent Ruby is a professor at the University of Montana who studies extreme physiology, including how wildland firefighting impacts the body. In 2011 we wrote an article titled The myth of drinking water which included the results of some of Dr. Ruby’s research, as well as his thoughts about the firefighter hyperthemia fatality on the CR 337 fire in Texas.

Men’s Journal has an interesting article featuring Dr. Ruby and some of his recommendations for firefighters. Below is an excerpt:


“Workouts should mirror job demands.

Rather than banging out a 10k in featherweight running sneakers every morning, crewmembers should go for long hikes on steep trails wearing a heavy backpack and clunky boots. “Hiking with a heavy load – that’s job-specific aerobic training.”

Eat constantly.

Ruby has found that to be safely working at peak condition, they should consume 4,500 calories a day with a number of “eating episodes.” If what’s supposed to be an eight-hour shift turns into a 12-hour shift, Hotshots should have easy access to quality calories. “They need an elaborate food plan that accommodates unpredictable shifts. We envision giving them ownership of the menu, where they can mix and match 12 items,” he says.

Aim for variety in calories.

Ruby suggests packing a high-quality red meat for protein; several types of fresh fruit; carbs in the form of oats and rice; carrots and broccoli for diversity; and loads of dried fruits and nuts. “They need foods that satisfies and doesn’t leave them focusing on how hungry they still are,” Ruby says. “Their job is fire suppression. As soon as they’re distracted from fire suppression, other risks crop up.”

Drink water – and lots of it.

The best way to think about hydration, according to Ruby, is in terms of “water turnover” over a 24 hour period, or how much water you take in and dump out through sweat and urine. On average, the water turnover for Hotshots is 7 to 9.5 liters a day. “You have to make sure you’re taking in somewhere in that range – probably a liter more than you’re putting out,” he says. Being sufficiently hydrated alone, however, isn’t going to stop you from overheating in a high-stress situation, warns Ruby.”

A cop looks at hotshot fitness

A law enforcement officer wrote an article about the fitness standards and programs for interagency hotshot crews. Jim Vaglica is a full-time police sergeant on call 24/7 with a regional SWAT team in the Boston area. He is a strength and conditioning specialist, a police sergeant, and is a cast member of Mark Burnett’s “Expedition Impossible”. The article was published by

In describing hotshots, he said, “If I had to relate it to my own professional background, I’d say it’s the difference between a squad of police officers and a SWAT team.”

Below are more excerpts from the article:



Unlike fighting structure fires, where brute strength is paramount, the physical demands of wildland firefighting are vastly different. You’re not going to be carrying a 200-pound man down a flight of stairs and out of a burning building. No one on the crew gives a crap “How much ya bench?” All they care about is that you can swing a tool all day without bitching and moaning, and then get up the next day and do it again. If you look at most hotshot crews, you’ll see a lot of slender builds. Excessive muscle mass doesn’t get you anywhere. It just slows you down.


When you’re actually fighting a fire, the almost unbearable conditions seem to have no end. After a few hours of working in 110-degree heat with no shade, you may start to think that there’s no way you can finish the day, but you know that everyone else on your crew is suffering too. You just push through it for the guys on either side of you. If you go down, they’ll have to pick up your slack. When you’re in the middle of nowhere punching in line, you can’t just jump in your car and go home. You take another big swig of hot water, you deal with it, and you keep going.”