Olathe Fire Chief Jeff DeGraffenreid works hard to strengthen his fire department’s relationship with the community it serves.
When he read in a trade magazine about a fitness program the University of California-Davis fire department provided students, he thought it would be a great fit for Olathe, too.
In cooperation with Olathe Parks and Recreation, DeGraffenreid began offering “Fit with Fire” at Station One in January. The workout program recently wrapped up its fourth 12-class session.
“Anything we can do to get the community inside the fire station, it’s good for us,” DeGraffenreid said.
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“I think people might not fully understand our view of ourselves and that we see ourselves as occupational athletes. We need to be in good shape to be able to perform to the expectation the public has of us during an emergency.”
DeGraffenreid says the department works hard to educate and connect with children in the community: For the past 20 years, it has run a program in Olathe public schools, starting with second-graders and continuing through to high school students. The department also offers slip-and-fall education for the elderly.
But the majority of the population is in the middle years, and DeGraffenreid says he wanted a way to connect with them, as well.
Captain Paul Craft and firefighter Matt Britt partnered to design and teach the course. Craft is a certified personal trainer and Britt is ACE certified — they’re both Crossfit Level One certified.
Brenda Grisby, one of a group of four neighbors who has attended every session, says, the program feels like “a step below the Crossfit and right by Kettlebell.
“They also modify to your level. They’re hands-on, so almost like a personal trainer, which is really helpful.”
And something Grisby couldn’t have done anywhere else is try on some of the firefighting gear. She had no idea how heavy the jackets alone are. “I learned a ton,” she says.
Because the educational component is important to the firefighters as well, each workout has a fire-related name.
The first class of the most recent session was called “The Big House,” which is how the firefighters refer to Fire Station One, a two-company station in Olathe. It holds two crews run by two captains, and is home to special operations: they’re able to do water rescues and can extricate people from collapsed pits or crumpled cars.
Craft and Britt try to teach participants something about the seven fire stations and about the specifics of fighting fire.
The workouts simulate some of the conditions the firefighters face when they are in a burning structure.
“I put in the idea of the workload I want them to do within a certain time that’s relevant to what we do on the job, so that they can kind of experience the stresses that we go through,” Britt says
Craft explains that when they’re on the scene of a fire, and wearing about 75 pounds of equipment, they can only exert themselves for 12 to 17 minutes on one air pack.
“There are times when we’ll arrive on the scene of a house fire and we have to stretch 200 feet of hose to a fire hydrant,” Britt says. “That’s not easy for us, especially in bunker gear. So we have them do some hose drags.”
Over the course of the one-hour class, participants work hard at pulling a hose, tossing sandbags, or dragging a 160-pound dummy, then rest for the amount of time it took them to do the activity.
Grisby and her neighborhood friends agree that whipping the 30 to 50 pound sandbags through their legs is the most difficult exercise they’re tasked with.
But the friends initially enrolled because they wanted a different kind of regimen, so they’ll tolerate the sandbags as part of the deal.
One of the group members, public school nurse Dayna Rice, says the course is an improvement over working out with videos at home.
“When you’re working out with other people or with friends, it gives you that extra competitiveness. You get more results because you try harder.”
She adds, “It’s been nice to do things that are out of our comfort zone or use equipment that we would never have had the opportunity to (use).”
While Craft and Britt say the class should be appropriate for an adult in average shape — not someone who’s been sedentary for a long time — Rice says she would not encourage her mother to sign up.
Sam Perez, 25, has four children and works in the office of a warehouse. She says she wanted to get back in shape after her last baby, but also needed more energy to give to her kids after work.
Before the first class kicked off, Perez explains her decision to take the class.
“I don’t like something that’s like, ‘Oh, we’re going to go to the gym and walk a little.’ I want something that’s more hardcore, and it seems like they’re going to be hard core.”
And by the sixth week of class, she knew she’d been right.
“Before, when I got home from work I liked to sit for at least 30 minutes and just relax,” Perez explains. “Now, I feel like my energy’s been more up since I started exercising.”
Each of the four sessions has had between seven and 11 students. DeGraffenreid says they may not run the course year-round, but will offer it as long as there is a demand.
“When they’re in there with those firefighters working out, they’re not only getting a good physical workout, but we have lots of good conversations with them.”
He says they also offer participants CPR training.
Craft says it’s a great experience for students and teachers.
“We’re allowing somebody into our home, which is pretty neat,” Craft says. “Not everybody gets an opportunity to come into the fire station and to come regularly and work out with the firemen. And they’ve been here long enough I’m sure they feel like family here.”
The group of friends on their fourth session, agree with Craft’s sentiment. Rice thinks she may even talk about her new workout buddies too much outside of class.
She says, “I’ll be driving around and I’ll be like ‘Oh, that’s Engine 51, they’re out of Olathe.’ My family’s always like ‘Oh Lord.’”
Tips from the pros
Exercise tips and common mistakes from Fire Captain and personal trainer Paul Craft, and ACE certified Firefighter Matt Britt. They are both Crossfit Level One Certified.
▪ Let a coach help you learn to exercise correctly and avoid injury early on.
▪ Choose an activity that’s realistic for you; one that will work with your lifesyle every day.
▪ ·If weight loss is the objective, a half pound to one pound a week is safest and most realistic.
▪ Avoid always looking at the scale. Muscle weighs more than fat. You may gain weight when you first start working out. Instead, pay attention to how your clothes fit.
▪ Don’t expect quick results. Shows like “Biggest Loser” give people false expectations. Results come pretty slow.
▪ If you push yourself through a workout that’s too hard, you’re going to be extremely sore and become demotivated. Pace yourself.
▪ The next class is Sept. 11 through Oct. 19. For more information, or to register ....