(TNS) - Brandon Bennage of the Warrior Run Area Fire Dept. pulls the mask of a breathing apparatus from his face, puts hands to hips, inhales and exhales rapidly.
A cross-training routine outside the Watsontown-based station has him gassed after flipping a tractor tire about 40 feet, slamming that tire 12 times over with a sledgehammer and flipping it again six times end over end back to where he began.
Bennage did it all wearing 80 pounds of turnout gear and equipment.
“Every time these guys work out it’s in full turnout gear,” said Coty Heater, a certified personal trainer and Warrior Run Area firefighter.
Heater began training Bennage and fellow firefighter Nate Kessler, the program the genesis for Working Box Fitness. About five firefighters participate in the program, launched this spring, including from Milton, Montgomery and White Deer.
The workouts are performed at Warrior Run Area since that’s where most of its participants are from. However, Heater said it’s independent of the department. He hopes firefighters from neighboring departments will join for the three-times-weekly workout. It combines free weights and cardio exercises with cross-training using fire service equipment — old hose lines weighted with sand, ladders and saws and irons to lug for added weight.
If a fire company is interested in picking up the program, Heater said he’ll travel to another station to provide lessons.
“The fire service is slowly becoming more out of shape,” Heater said. “Not only does this help our firefighters in the area, but it also helps the people by giving them a more fit-for-duty fire and rescue service.”
Pennsylvania’s Office of the State Fire Commissioner recorded 92 line of duty deaths between 2004 and 2014, the latest information available.
Of those, 41 cited a cardiac emergency — heart attack or cardiac arrest — either at the scene of an incident, in the hours afterward or on routine non-emergency assignments. The oldest: 74. The youngest: 26. Most of the incidents were for males in their late 40s, 50s and 60s.
A handful of other deaths cite stroke, epilepsy or an unexplained physical failing.
Tim Solobay, Pennsylvania fire commissioner, said physical health of firefighters is as important as expertise and training.
Solobay, 61, a volunteer with Canonsburg Fire Department, said his station has annual physical requirements.
“We’re pushing fire departments to look at fitness programs,” Solobay said.
Bennage is pushing to lose weight. He dropped more than 10 pounds so far since starting the routine.
Kessler works to build strength and endurance.
Cindy Lytle, a volunteer firefighter, describes herself as “their mother.” She’s active with Working Box Fitness for her overall health.
“For firefighters, the number one concern is heart attack,” Lytle said before beginning a battle rope exercise. “You don’t realize how exerted you get.”
“It’s not easy with this gear trying to get up off the ground,” she said.
Working Box Fitness seeks volunteer firefighters to work out at no cost: 7 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at Warrior Run Area Fire Dept., 1125 Main St. Heater and company want to share the program with Valley departments, too.
Learn more at www.facebook.com/WorkingBoxFitness.
A fundraising page is at www.gofundme.com/working-box-fitness-kickstarter. The goal is to raise $1,000 to purchase equipment for departments to launch the program.
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