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Strengthening Our Heroes: A Comprehensive Approach to First Responders’ Fitness and Well-Being

May 18, 2023

Awoken by a dispatch at 4 a.m. during a long shift, you hastily respond to an emergency, leaping from the rig with your 45-pound crash bag you land wrong, tweaking your lower back, again. You think, “How long can I keep doing this?”

Hartford HealthCare’s head of strength and conditioning, Bruce Brazeal, recognized the challenges first responders face.

“I’ve been in the business for 32 years, and have friends and family who are military, emergency medical services, firefighting and law enforcement. What worries me is that, as you age, your job does not change,” he says.

Noting the lack of training opportunities and shortage of wellness education and support for first responders Brazeal collaborated with the Hartford HealthCare Center for Education, Simulation and Innovation (CESI) to create a solution.

Learn more about the Center for Education, Simulation & Innovation

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Responding to a problem

The specialized program for firefighters, police officers and other first responders promotes long-term health and works to prevent injuries that could seriously hinder job performance or cause early retirement. He provides this training to Hunter’s Ambulance employees, whom he calls “tactical athletes.”

Regardless of their age, these people face ongoing physical pressure throughout their careers that can lead to:

  • Lower back strain
  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

“To address these issues, it is important consider a holistic approach that focuses on wellness alongside athletic training,” Brazeal explains. “It does not matter how well you do in the gym. Out in the real world, there are other variables. You have to be ready to face the unexpected.”

Functional training

Training should simulate real-life scenarios, incorporating less conventional exercises like sled pushes, sandbag loads and farmers’ carry drills with gradual progression to build resilience, Brazeal continues.

“A typical course includes exercises that improve strength, power, flexibility and mobility, all of which are necessary to reduce the likelihood of injuries,” he stresses.

Sustaining strength and health is essential for first responders throughout their careers, but awareness of personal health risks, such as high blood pressure or heart problems, is just as important. Collaboration with psychology and nutrition experts ensures participants understand the ongoing need for comprehensive support for their unique lifestyle.

Program participants take mental health and nutritional assessments, and work with physical therapists who screen for asymmetries in strength and mobility issues. They, may be referred for more support if necessary.

The goal, Brazeal says, is to fully develop the program and make it available to all first responders.

“By prioritizing physical and mental health, tactical athletes can continue their invaluable work ensuring the continued safety and security of our communities,” he says.

Connect with the HHC Rehabilitation Network

Hartford HealthCare Rehabilitation Network offers specialized rehabilitation services, including physical therapy, speech therapy, occupational therapy and audiology. Start here, for the future of health, no referral needed.

Visit website Call Call 833.277.1036