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Enhancing EMS Worker Health and Wellness through Sports Medicine

Former MLB Athletic Trainer and Strength Coach brings modern health science to firefighting

Fire recruits in fitness training

In the demanding fields of Firefighting and Emergency Medical Services (EMS), the health and well-being of workers are crucial for maintaining high levels of performance and service. By integrating best practices in fitness, nutrition, and sleep management, alongside the latest technology monitoring tools, fire and EMS organizations can create a more resilient and efficient workforce.


Dr. Brian Newman

Dr. Brian Newman took on the challenge of bringing the model of player high-performance in Major League baseball to his job as Athletic Trainer for the Fort Worth, Texas, Fire Department. “Coming to Fort Worth was the perfect opportunity to make a difference. The fire and EMS field can benefit from professional sports and utilize the latest and greatest,” says Dr. Newman, “whether it’s analytics, wearables, nutrition science, or technology that looks at neurocognitive function and impairment.”

 


Going beyond physical fitness

While promoting fitness within the fire and EMS workplace is a cornerstone of the sports science approach, a successful program needs to be comprehensive and include injury diagnostics, data science, and nutrition. Brian noted:

“Before I joined, the [Fort Worth] program was limited to making recruits healthy with physical fitness. But I wanted to come in and take it to a new level and build a Sports Med program. What are we doing for operational firefighters for injuries? I want to move everything in-house where I see the injuries. I think the biggest “aha” moment was when we took an injury with an ACL tear from a mobile home fire on a Sunday. I saw him Monday morning. He was at the ortho Tuesday afternoon, had an MRI Wednesday morning, and then was in surgery next on Friday. Normally, it can sit for weeks with pre-diagnosis PT sessions.” - Dr. Brian Newman

Fort Worth fire department cadets in aerobic training

A data driven approach

Dr. Newman is a self-professed junkie for cutting edge technology. “I’m the guy who’s always looking at new ways to use data and new tools that are out there.” Leveraging the latest technology monitoring tools can enhance health and wellness programs in fire and EMS organizations. Wearable devices and health apps can track physical activity, monitor sleep patterns, determine fitness for duty, and provide real-time feedback on various health metrics. These tools enable first responders to take a proactive approach. By utilizing data-driven strategies, fire and EMS organizations can improve participation rates, measure program effectiveness, and make informed decisions to support their workforce’s health and wellness.

 

“Sleep is a crucial factor in reducing fatigue risk and maintaining the health and effectiveness of first responders,” adds Dr. Newman. “Long hours and the high-stress nature of first responders can lead to fatigue, impaired judgment, slower reaction times – all contributing to injury rates.” A recent fatigue study done in conjunction with Impairment Science’s DRUID app demonstrated how poor sleep leads to impairment. As a result, the organization is implementing policies to promote good sleep hygiene, proper scheduling, designated rest periods, and education on the importance of sleep.

 

Making nutrition an important part of the mix

Nutrition is another critical component of maintaining the health and performance of first responders. Fire and EMS organizations can promote healthy eating by offering nutritious food options at work, providing educational resources about balanced diets, and creating wellness initiatives focused on healthy eating.


A health diet is critical for healthy EMS workers

Dr. Newman advocates proper nutrition to sustain energy levels and cognitive function, which are crucial for fire and EMS professionals often working long and irregular hours. “I encourage a diet rich in lean proteins, vegetables, and healthy carbohydrates to help our cadets and firefighters maintain optimal health and readiness.”

 

One of Dr. Newman’s go-to colleagues for data-driven advice is Dr. Jacob Mota, Assistant Professor of Kinesiology in the Department of Kinesiology and Sport Management at Texas Tech University. Dr. Mota’s research includes determining the role of neuromuscular function on performance and injury risk for physically demanding occupations. “If we genuinely want to set candidates up for fire service success, applying sound sport science principles to their physical training in the academy is critical, says Dr. Mota. He adds:

“We know that strength training is important but we also know that proper diet with high protein consumption is key to maintaining muscle mass, function and a high quality of life. Firefighters need more protein than the average person is consuming and diet is a big role in body comp. It’s the fuel that drives our engines”. - Dr. Jake Mota

 

The big payoff from adopting health and wellness

Healthy workers are essential for the success of any organization, particularly fire and EMS organizations. Tactical professionals often operate under high-stress conditions, which can influence their physical and mental health.

 

Promoting physical fitness, proper nutrition, and adequate sleep helps mitigate these effects. Healthier employees are not only more productive but also less susceptible to injuries and illnesses, which reduces absenteeism and worker’s compensation claims. This ensures that fire and EMS organizations can maintain optimal staffing levels and provide uninterrupted emergency services. It’s no accident that Dr. Newman is aligned with the Risk Management Department at the Fort Worth Fire Department. “Our task is to reduce injuries and the risk management team is a huge supporter of that.”

 

Note: To learn more about how to monitor fatigue risk with impairment screening technology, contact info@impairmentscience.com.




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