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A personal note to friends

Sallie Satterthwaite's picture

Hey guys (and girls), but mostly guys,

Would you mind terribly if I bring up a personal matter with you? This will be just between us, and you know who you are. I won’t mention it to another soul.
I worry about you. You have been so kind to me and my family over the years. You don’t know how fond I am of you, and I’m so grateful to be remembered and included in your promotion ceremonies, the annual officers’ banquet, July 4th celebrations, and all the rest.

Let me come right out and tell you what’s on my mind: You’re fat, or getting that way, really fast.

Obesity is on the rise in America, and according to some very reputable observers, among 41 male-dominated occupations, firefighting has the third highest prevalence rate of obesity.

First responders who are in less than prime condition (a.k.a. obese) could compromise the safety of their colleagues on a structure fire or an accident scene.
You know the facts, and you’ve probably heard about it from your wives and girl friends. (If you think I’m ignoring female firefighters, I’m not, really. Few of the studies include females, and this problem is not so acute in women as in men.)

Obesity is hard to avoid, and the arrival of the holiday season means more temptations at the station, thanks to members of the public bringing in cookies and platters of food in appreciation of what you do for the community.

There is no magic bullet. The same willpower that drives you into danger trying to save lives and property can be applied to fighting the temptation to eat high-sugar, high-fat snacks just because they are there.

You’re a competitive group. Pit shift-to-shift or station-to-station competitions.

Keep lots of munchies around the station and help yourselves – only if the snacks are carrot sticks, celery stuffed with low-fat cream cheese, popcorn, lettuce rolls. Drink unsweetened ice tea, or sweetened with a sugar-substitute, or half-sweetened and-half unsweetened tea. Ditch the colas.
Sounds grim, but I promise you get used to the changes.

There is also the myth that you can eat more because you work so hard, physically. Yes, but studies find that you really don’t work that hard in Peachtree City, Georgia, in 2012, and you may go several shifts between bursts of real physical effort.

Read some of the startling facts in the January 2011 on-line magazine Fire Engineering:

The leading cause of death in firefighters over the age of 35 is cardiac-related, whereas among those under 35, trauma takes that toll.

There is a strong predisposition between hypertension and obesity.

An Alabama study found that there was a direct relationship between added body weight and decreased physical performance. As body weight increases, efficiency decreases and fatigue sets in faster, often placing disproportionate strain on other members of a crew.

And you are a diabetes patient in the making and organ failure, meaning you risk blindness and a host of other nasties at a much higher incidence than non-diabetics.

Listen up guys, especially you younger people: Most pitiful among us are those middle-to-older aged folks, whether in the fire service or the general public, whose poor health has been fore-ordained by decisions a clueless teenager made for them. In other words, the eating habits of the kid you were bring consequences to your later life.

I am proud to see that many of you have stopped smoking or never started. You can’t imagine how our clothes and hair used to smell after an evening’s training. Dave wouldn’t come near me when I got home.

One more thing. Whether you care enough about your careers and your dedication to the public you serve, there’s one more reason you should lose the spare tire around your waist. Have you ever had a kid tell you he wants to be a firefighter or paramedic like you? You may be a model to a little boy – or girl – who sees you as a hero. Think about that.

I hope I haven’t ruffled too many feathers with this very personal diatribe, which is why it is just between us. It’s just that I care.

Best regards to you all, and thanks for your dedication.


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