LCSC Kinesiology Senior Project Yields Firefighter Physical Assessment


Students at Lewis-Clark State College are getting an unprecedented look at the lifestyle of Lewiston's first responders and using their education to give back.

Their senior project involves a rigorous and innovative exam that takes learning out of the textboo and into the fire.

With cardiovascular disease edging out cancer as the leading cause of death among firefighters, physical fitness is top priority in this demanding occupation.

Chief Travis Myklebust says, "We have a firefighter fitness assessment that we do every year."

But at 26 years old, that assessment is no longer supported. Lewiston's Fire Chief Travis Myklebust decided a little innovation was in order. "It is pretty rare. Very few departments have done what we're doing."

A student, carrying a stopwatch, follows along as a firefighter drags a prone form, "Keep it coming, here we go."

Lewiston Fire contacted Lewis-Clark State College's kinesiology department to design a functional fitness test. Starting out with a resting heart rate and blood pressure, then the real work begins.

Student Olivia Kana says, "Not the normal run a mile, do push-ups and sit-ups."

"Unlike the old test, this new assessment is based on things firefighters actually do on the job," Shannon Moudy explains.

Olivia says, "We're trying to get their heart rate and we're trying to resemble what it would be like on the fire."

That means pulling hose, balance and agility - "They don't know what they're going to be crawling under or hopping over," student Patryce McWilliams says - then finally the dummy.

One-hundred and fifty pounds of dead weight. "Their favorite part," both girls laugh.

Because many of the 31 guys being tested are coming off of a 48-hour shift, it's not just the course that's replicating real life.

Patryce says, "They get three hours of sleep and they get a call and they gotta go. And they don't know what they're running into."

Perhaps the biggest uncertainty about this job - a surprise diagnosis. Chief Myklebust says health assessments have actually saved lives.

"We've caught pre-cardiovascular, pre-diabetes, pre-cancer. My goal and my team's goal is to make sure that we have firefighters who not only go home at the end of the shift, but retire healthy," he explains.

Now, thanks to these students, the department can count on this test for years to come.

Patryce says, "When they want to test once a year or when they get new people in, they'll be able to set up a course and test people and know that it's a valid, reliable test."

This beta testing course is just one part of the assessment. Firefighters will also be put on a bike to test power output and have body fat percentages scientifically examined in a hydrostatic weighing tank.

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