Canadian Firefighter Magazine

Fit for Duty: Leadership and fitness

Sherry Dean   

Features editors pick

As a recently promoted chief officer, it was interesting to hear someone be surprised that I would continue to work out each day. It’s not an anomaly, there are a number of chief officers in my department who work out regularly, but it does pose an interesting question. Should your department’s chiefs continue to work out and promote fitness? I’m biased. Of course, they should. Health and fitness should be a part of everyone’s regular practice. 

Although the focus may change for people advancing in their careers, remaining fit and setting examples for others to follow is something that would be great to see from all organizational leaders. New recruits work hard at being well conditioned firefighters when they join their department, both volunteer and career. A lot of departments have a minimum fitness standard that recruits must achieve before they are permitted to join. It’s unfortunate, but a lot of the time the level of fitness new people have when they join is the best fitness they will ever have. 

If your department hasn’t yet developed a fitness standard or doesn’t yet promote regular fitness practices, there is no time like the present. Reach out to another fire department for some advice. There are a number of different standards including CPAT, York Test/Gledhill Fitness Protocol, Beep Test/VO2 Max tests are a few of the entry standard used by departments to qualify new recruits. 

For continued wellness practice the IAFF and IAFC (VCOS) both promote the Wellness Fitness Initiative (WFI). This initiative covers a number of areas of wellness including medical maintenance, fitness, injury prevention, and behavioural health to name a few. It also talks specifically to the responsibilities of the chief (and other chief officers) in promoting wellness and health in the department. 


Most chiefs have some level of operational responsibility which fits in with the need to maintain appropriate fitness levels. The additional stress of added responsibilities only adds to the importance of wellness, not diminish it. People look to the leaders in their department and will follow the consensus. 

Let your firefighters see you setting the bar high for all wellness practices whether you are a captain, training officer, chief officer or the chief. Be active and join your crews occasionally to workout with them. Provide time and resources in your stations for your firefighters to train and practice other health benefits in the areas of diet, mental wellness and stress relief. Encourage your firefighters to get regular health checks with their physicians. Educate the physicians with the true demands of the work being done by firefighters.

Be well, be safe. Now go get your shorts on and get to work!

Work Out 

Warm-up 5 minutes 

  • 5 front shoulder rolls, 5 reverse shoulder rolls 
  • 5 forward arm circles, 5 reverse arm circles
  • 30 sec high knees
  • 30 sec butt kicks 
  • 30 sec jumping jacks 
  • 30 sec skaters
  • 10 kick to opposite hand R/L
  • 10-inch worms 
  • 15 walking lunges with R/L twist each step
  • 20 air squats with arm extension overhead at bottom of squat

Cardio 15 minutes 

  • 3 Tabatas (4 mins each Tabata – 8 rounds of 20 secs on, 10 secs off)
  • Rest 1 minute between Tabatas
  • Choose whatever method of cardio you like. Stick with one or change each Tabata. Run, row, cycle, burpee, run stairs. Whatever you choose just work to your max on your 20 sec and rest for 10 secs. 


Use what you have available. Weights, hoses, containers of foam or buckets of water. There are 10 exercises. Pick the minute timing that works best for you, but also makes you work. Your choice of 30 secs on/30 off, 40 secs on/20 off, 45 secs on, 15 off 

  • Weighted squat with press – hold weight close to body during squat, extend arms straight out in standing position.
  • Bent over row – single arm or barbell or reverse row (laying pull ups)
  • Travelling push ups – move your arms after each push up. Use a weight to step up a level or do push ups off with feet elevated off the ground on a bench.
  • Upright row – alternating or both arms at once
  • Step ups or box jumps (use a bench or stairs if you don’t have a box
  • Ground to overhead – the weight starts on the ground and end up with arm(s) fully extended overhead. You can choose the method you like. Single arm dumbbell snatch, deadlift, curl to overhead press etc. 
  • Walking lunges – forward or reverse
  • Tricep dips – Feet on the floor or on a bench/box
  • Bicep curl – straight curl, hammer curl, concentration curl – your choice
  • Abs – change this up each round. V-ups, butterfly sit ups, scissor leg raises, hip thrusts, etc. 
  • You can choose a one-minute rest between rounds or go straight through. 

Cool Down 5 mins

  • 10 R/L forward bend rag doll to standing twist arms extended to sides
  • 30 sec hold lunge calf stretch with R/L arm across body at shoulder height 
  • 45 sec standing or laying quad stretch R/L, foot in hand, hip open, use wall for balance
  • 45 sec standing hamstring stretch R/L – foot extended out front, lean toward knee, back straight with chest out. 
  • 5 forward shoulder rolls, 5 reverse shoulder rolls.

Sherry Dean is a career firefighter/engineer with Halifax Regional Fire & Emergency Service. She has more than 20 years of experience in fitness and training. Contact Sherry at

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