The bushfire fighting test: Quantifying a safe standard of fitness and health in CFA volunteers bushfire fighters
The operational readiness of Australian bushfire fighters is largely unknown. No physical fitness standards are routinely evaluated or enforced in the majority of Australia’s bushfire fighting populations, which are comprised predominantly of volunteers.
No physical fitness test exists to measure operational readiness for bushfire fighting despite the existence of operational readiness tests for other types of fire fighting. Bushfire suppression tasks may combine elements of aerobic fitness, muscular strength, muscular endurance and a multitude of fire fighting specific skills. It is unknown whether conventional laboratory based fitness testing can quantify fitness changes that may correspond to increased bushfire fighting performance. It is also unknown whether potential changes in performance of fire fighting specific fitness tests are due to changes in fire fighting expertise, fitness or health or a combination of these factors.
There is some evidence to suggest that volunteer bushfire fighters may be more prone to overexertion injury than career bushfire fighters. Volunteer fire fighters may also have reduced fitness levels compared to career fire fighters. Both career and volunteer fire fighting populations have high rates of smoking, hypertension, hypercholesterolemia, obesity and impaired lung function, which in combination with low fitness levels, may further increase the risk of overexertion injury encountered during fire suppression.
A large proportion of volunteer bushfire fighters in Australia may therefore be at risk of overexertion injury during bushfire suppression. It is likely that our study will provide bushfire suppression agencies in Australia with a bushfire specific fitness test to indicate operational readiness and reduce the risk of overexertion injury.
Greater understanding of the characteristics of operational readiness for bushfire suppression may lead to reduction in overexertion related injury during or after bushfire suppression and increase fire ground productivity during bushfire suppression.