Enablers and barriers perceived by professional firefighters in the implementation of a mandatory physical fitness program

Gerardo Ortiz, The University of Texas School of Public Health


Purpose: Firefighters confront episodic extremes of biological, chemical, physical, and psychological hazards that often strain their bodies to their limits. Fitness and wellness programs are a recognized need in the fire service but the factors affecting their implementation are not well understood. The purpose of this study was to identify the enablers and barriers affecting the implementation of a mandatory physical fitness program at a municipal fire department in the State of Florida. Methods: Forty-three individuals (professional firefighters and fire chiefs) participated in eight focus groups. The social ecological model was used as the organizing theoretical framework. Participants were asked to discuss their individual health beliefs and social, cultural and organizational factors affecting their exercise and health behaviors. Perceived enablers and barriers in the implementation of the proposed program were also discussed. Thematic analysis was used as analytic strategy to identify emerging themes. Results: The need to be physical fit was perceived as highly relevant from a functional perspective. Despite this relevance, the firefighters' exercise and health behaviors fluctuate throughout their careers. The onset of personal responsibilities and the absence of organizational expectations affects their exercise practices shortly after their recruit stage. For many, physical fitness remerges as relevant during the latter part of their careers. A distinct interest in performing functional exercises in a group setting, the medical surveillance program and the efforts in support of the recruits' physical fitness were the most salient organizational enablers identified. Although participants expressed an appetite for action to address their physical fitness, the absence of exercise professionals, lack of exercise prescription, and constant interruptions to exercise during their shifts were the most common programmatic barriers identified. Perceived lack of management support, labor-management conflicts, poorly defined physical fitness expectations, high tolerance for unfit individuals were the most common organizational barriers. Recommendations: Labor-management conflict is the most critical barrier that must be resolved before implementing any fitness program. The enablers and barriers identified along with nationally recognized physical fitness guidelines will hopefully support fire departments in implementing the desired program.

Subject Area

Occupational health|Public administration|Public policy

Recommended Citation

Ortiz, Gerardo, "Enablers and barriers perceived by professional firefighters in the implementation of a mandatory physical fitness program" (2014). Texas Medical Center Dissertations (via ProQuest). AAI3643663.