Fitness Standards in the Fire Service – update

fitness_standardsWe promised to keep you updated regarding the outcomes from the Joint Working Group (JWG) on Firefighter Fitness.

The first meeting took place on 31 March 2015 with the next meeting scheduled for 14 July 2015, the terms of reference can be found here.

At the first meeting the group was given a presentation reminding them of the background to the National Firefighter Selection Tests, which were implemented in 2006. These tests looked to standardise the entry level for both Wholetime and Retained across the country by providing science based methodology.

A second presentation was given by the University Of Bath (UOB) who were commissioned by CFOA/FireFit to review the fitness standard and tasks performed by modern day firefighters.

The results from the UOB were very interesting and have the potential to cause major disruption to all Fire & Rescue Services. Firstly they have recommended to differentiate between ‘Firefighters’ and ‘Incident Commanders’ (i.e. managers that do not ride a frontline appliance), whereby Incident Commanders require a lower fitness standard that firefighters. Currently all operational staff (Firefighter to Chief Fire Officer) are expected to achieve the same fitness standard.

Secondly, there is a variation within each standard. Firefighters ideally need to attain and maintain a fitness standard that equates to 42.3 Vo2max (previously which was 42 Vo2max), but anyone tested who achieves a fitness level of between 35.6 – 42.2 Vo2max would remain ‘on-the-run’, with a view to improving their fitness over a period of time (approx. 6 months).

Our view is that if a firefighter is ‘safe’ to ride a frontline appliance with a Vo2max of 35.6, why have a standard of 42.3? It is possible that a firefighter would never achieve the standard of 42.3 Vo2max yet never be taken off the run because he/she never falls below the level of 35.6 Vo2max.

On the issue of having a separate, lower standard for Station Managers and above (the fitness range for ‘Incident Commanders’ is 31.4 – 36.8 Vo2max), this could have wide ranging implications on matters such as remuneration, the ability to provide resilience cover and raise questions over whether access to the Firefighters’ Pension Scheme continues to be appropriate.

From a Retained Firefighters perspective, we have raised the following issues:

  • If Wholetime colleagues have access to fitness equipment so should Retained staff.
  • Will Retained staff be paid to undertake fitness activities the same as their Wholetime colleagues?
  • If Retained staff are expected to undertake fitness activities outside of their response area, will they be credited availability time?

We know that there is inequality within the majority of Fire Services, whereby Retained are not being given access to and the use of service fitness equipment; this is not a new problem and we have been raising the issue for a number of years.

If services are serious about supporting their employees to attain and maintain ‘appropriate’ fitness levels, then the attitude towards fitness needs to change and become a priority rather than an afterthought.

Whatever the fitness standard is, it must be fit-for-purpose, it needs to have a general consensus of stakeholders and not pushed through merely because it suits senior officers.

We believe that measures need to be put in place to phase-in any new fitness standard, to minimise any negative impact such a change could have on the workforce.

As with all issues that impact directly on our members, the RFU is the only organisation that is solely dedicated to protecting the interests of Retained staff in this matter and will be making representations at national level accordingly. We will continue to keep you updated on developments.

If you have any questions on the contents of this bulletin please contact us via email.

Tristan Ashby
Deputy Chief Executive Officer