The Andrews Institute Collaborative Research Study Aims To Prevent Firefighter Injury
GULF BREEZE, Fla. (August 31, 2009) – A call comes in to the local Pensacola Fire Department to be first on the scene of a local house fire. These brave men and women respond without a second thought; only thinking about the safety of the people they are about to encounter and the danger they are facing. These first responders, however, place their own lives at risk and sometimes the person they are saving is one of their own. Russell Beaty, fire chief of the Pensacola Fire Department, has witnessed this all too often. Many of the on–the–job hazards they face are not only due to fires but also their day–to–day activities.
“We continually train and put ourselves to the test,” says Beaty. “We try to keep ourselves in good condition but sometimes that isn’t enough. We realize that obtaining help and looking for new ways to protect our health and safety is of the utmost importance to save us from on–the–job injury.”
Due to the physically demanding and unpredictable nature of their work, “occupational athletes” such as firefighters, soldiers, and police officers are frequently injured in the line of duty. These noble “occupational athletes” are frequently placed in high risk, volatile environments wherein it would be difficult if not impossible to implement ergonomic strategies to reduce the associated risk. Consequently, many public protectors and servants are forced to accept the risk of damaging their body and must selflessly cope with chronic pain and disability. Injured firefighters, soldiers, and police officers are not only a danger to themselves, but the safety of their co–workers and the people they serve can be compromised.
A collaborative research study with the University of Waterloo, the Andrews Institute for Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine, Athletes’ Performance, and the Pensacola Fire Department began in April to collect biomechanical data that may identify the potential for injury and help reduce the probability. The primary source of funding is a grant received from the Centre of Research Expertise for the Prevention of Musculoskeletal Disorders (CRE–MSD). An additional source is from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC).
A healthy firefighter is an effective and safe firefighter. If injury prevention is attainable, more lives will be saved. It will also save on the bottom line for many municipalities, not to mention the financial burden an injury could place on the families of a firefighter. Billions of dollars are spent each year on disability payments, medical treatments, duty restrictions, and lost work/training time, not to mention the countless human–related sacrifices being made. While it is unlikely that all firefighter injuries can be eliminated, risk management and training applications might offer ways to reduce present injury levels.
According to the National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA), in 2007 there were 103 firefighter deaths, 41 of those were stress related and 39 were classified as sudden cardiac arrests. In the same year, 80,100 firefighter injuries occurred in the line of duty. Out of those injuries, strains, sprains and muscular pains accounted for 45.1 percent of injuries during fireground operations and 57.8 percent of injury during non–fireground operations.
The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) along with the U.S. Department of Commerce released a report in 2005, “Economic Consequences of Firefighter Injuries and Their Prevention.” They found that the estimated cost of addressing firefighter injuries and of efforts to prevent them is $2.8 to $7.8 billion per year. The study was able to obtain workers compensation information that was specific to occupational codes for firefighters, injured and non–injured alike. Estimated health care costs alone accounted for $830 to $980 million of direct and indirect costs.
These sobering circumstances and statistics have motivated internationally recognized injury prevention researchers from the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada, to team–up with a world–leading sports performance athletic training company, Athletes’ Performance and the Andrews Institute for Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine, to begin developing evidence–based injury prevention programs for “occupational athletes”. Ultimately, the way in which an individual moves and activates their muscles will dictate who will and will not become injured.
How It Began
The University of Waterloo’s Department of Kinesiology is the first and one of the most established departments of its kind in North America. Throughout the last 20 years, University professors Dr. Jack Callaghan and Dr. Stuart McGill have conducted hundreds of scientific studies that demonstrate how the body’s tissues function and become damaged during work and at play. They continue to look for new and innovative ways to conduct research, engaging professors and students alike. Their graduate program, recognized and respected nationally and internationally, gives students the ability to conduct original research.
Two Ph.D. candidates at the University, Tyson Beach and David Frost, had recognized the importance and value of the risks that our public servants face on a day–to–day basis. They had looked at previous data released by the National Fire Protection Agency and the International Association of Firefighters and realized that something could be done to protect the health of these men and women. Enter Athletes’ Performance.
Athletes’ Performance is well known for working with professional and elite athletes to improve their on–field performance by identifying and meeting the demands of their game. With three locations in the United States and international training systems, supporting athletes world–wide, they strive for ways to decrease injury potential and improve the overall health of their athletes and participate in a variety of research–based studies utilizing cutting edge science in their training methodologies. When they were approached by the University of Waterloo, they immediately wanted to participate.
“Athletes’ Performance understands the need to continuously look for ways to improve our clients’ performance,” says Mark Verstegen, Athletes’ Performance & Core Performance Founder & President. “Firefighters exemplify the essence of what we consider an ‘athlete.’ Their professional requirements necessitate the highest level of sustainable physical and mental performance in the most demanding situations, putting their life on the line everyday to help others. The mission is far greater than winning a game, or how fast they run. They compete in a game of life and death, putting the victims first, their peers next, and must be at their highest level of performance to live to save others, and love their families, another day. It is an awesome responsibility…we have been humbled to serve for the last decade.”
Verstegen then approached the Andrews Institute for Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine in Gulf Breeze, Florida. The Andrews Institute is well known for the medical treatment of athletes, largely due in part to its founder, renowned orthopaedic and sports medicine surgeon Dr. James Andrews. The Andrews Institute has its own research and education division, the Andrews–Paulos Research & Education Institute, devoted to preventing injuries on and off the athletic field. Participating in and conducting evidence–based research is part of their mission and they look for partners in the medical, athletic and pharmaceutical industries to conduct such studies and address community needs. Athletes’ Performance had an already established relationship at the Institute, having opened their third location on its campus in 2007. The Institute offered their biomechanics research laboratory to Beach and Frost in order to conduct a series of studies in collaboration with them, Athletes’ Performance and the Pensacola Fire Department.
“We were excited to learn of this potential research collaboration and felt it was a natural fit for us," says Chad Gilliland, chief operating officer for the Andrews Institute. “We were already working with the Pensacola Fire Department, providing annual physicals, so we asked them to join in this effort. They immediately agreed and have been whole–heartedly committed to this project.”
The research study began at the Andrews Institute in April 2009 and has over 75 firefighters participating. The study has over six components, each investigating various research questions. Each firefighter in the study has volunteered to participate in the different phases and conducts their research activities during their personal time.
The study screens firefighters to determine if specific training can improve their movement patterns during occupational tasks and prevent injury in the field. There is some indirect evidence to suggest that firefighters who have trouble controlling their normal body mechanics may be more susceptible to low–back and other musculoskeletal injuries than firefighters who exhibit excellent body control.
The ultimate goal of the research project is to better understand how to enhance worker durability and optimize job performance. This will be accomplished through the implementation of training methods that place emphasis on the way an individual is moving and activating their muscles, rather than simply becoming physically fit. Too often, measures of “fitness”, such as strength or muscular endurance are used to identify occupational readiness, with disregard for how the tasks are performed. Interestingly enough, the individuals appearing to be the most physically prepared could in fact move their body’s in ways that predispose them to a higher risk of injury. The training principles adopted for this research project have been developed over the past 15 years and are successfully employed by Athletes’ Performance on a day–to–day basis with the world’s top professional and amateur athletes.
To accomplish their goal, the research team performs biomechanical analyses of the firefighters while they perform various work–related and non work–related physical duties. The data collected will provide insight into why some firefighters may be susceptible to injury when fulfilling their occupational duties, and provide information that can be used to develop evidence–based physical training programs.
Following these preliminary analyses, the researchers will be integrating Athletes’ Performance’s training methodology into an intervention study whereby their “movement–centric” approach will be compared to a conventional “fitness–centric” program. The objective is to better understand the effect that individualized movement coaching can have on preparing firefighters to meet the physical demands of their profession, while also reducing their potential for injury.
The first portion of the study includes a qualitative screen to determine if a firefighter is able to complete the various components of the study. If he/she is cleared, a fitness test is then conducted by Athletes’ Performance to gauge their current fitness level. During the fitness test, participants undergo a battery of physical tests that measure strength and power, a V02 test, which is a standard aerobic capacity evaluation that measures cardiovascular fitness, and a skin fold test to measure body composition.
After the fitness test, a biomechanical testing session is conducted in the Andrews–Paulos Research & Education Institute biomechanics lab. This session involves the monitoring of muscle and movement patterns during both general and simulated firefighting tasks.
After the biomechanical test is completed, the firefighters meet with a performance coach at Athletes’ Performance Florida for twelve weeks. These training sessions are 90–minutes in length and occur three times a week throughout the duration of the training period. Once the twelve week training program is completed, the firefighters undergo another round of fitness and biomechanical testing for final data collection.
Although this work with the firefighters is just getting underway, University of Waterloo researchers, Athletes’ Performance, and the Andrews–Paulos Research and Education Institute already have their sights set on developing and applying similar injury prevention strategies in military populations to maximize soldier readiness and retention.
“Firefighters and their families already understand the hazards of being on the job, whether it is rushing into a burning building or suffering from physical exhaustion and injury. That is why this research is so important – it could potentially save lives,” says Dr. James Andrews, founder of the Andrews Institute and renowned orthopaedic surgeon. “If we are able to identify injury trends and suggest improvement for training modifications, this could have a profound impact on an international scale...not only in the firefighting community but in other occupations as well.”
About Athletes’ Performance & Core Performance
Founded in 1999 by Mark Verstegen, Athletes’ Performance has set the standard for providing athletes with cutting–edge training based on the latest sports science. Athletes’ Performance provides world–class methodology, specialists and facilities seamlessly integrated to efficiently and ethically enhance its athletes’ performance. Verstegen and his team of performance specialists, physical therapists, sports nutritionists, and sports scientists have helped hundreds of professional athletes make dramatic physical improvements, boosting their performance on and off the field.
Athletes’ Performance operates elite world–class facilities at its original site in Phoenix, Arizona; the Home Depot National Training Center in Carson, California; and Gulf Breeze, Florida as part of the Andrews Institute.
Core Performance (www.coreperformance.com) stands alone in providing empowering systems with proven breakthrough solutions to help individuals achieve maximum performance levels. For people who want a complete game plan to feel better and have more energy for an active lifestyle, Core Performance provides the tools and methods to address the core fundamentals and lead a healthier, more productive life.
For more information on Core Performance, including its integrated online performance training and nutrition programs, visit www.coreperformance.com. For more information on Athletes’ Performance, visit www.athletesperformance.com.