0

Firefighters battle their waistlines

Photo by Laura Williams

Photo by Laura Williams

ALBANY, Ga. -- The Albany Fire Department's "Fired Up for Fitness" program is such a success that it attracted the attention of Americus city employees.

The healthy eating and exercise program spread to Americus through experts on nutrition from Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital.

"I call this the 'Road Show,'" said Darrell Sabbs, Phoebe community benefits specialist. "It is an example of what we provided to the firefighters during the past year. Many businesses could also benefit from the programs we offer."

While the staff at Phoebe put together a year-long plan including presentations on nutrition, stress relief and exercise for the Albany firefighters, it was at Phoebe Sumter Medical Center to emphasize good eating habits Thursday.

In two hour-long sessions about 100 city employees heard dietitian Hannah Orlowski talk about portion control and calories. They also got to eat a tasty less-than-500-calorie lunch that included banana pudding.

"We gave four diet-related programs for the Fired Up for Fitness at the Albany Fire Department," Orlowski said. "It is a year-long program we designed for them. We had one presentation a month including experts on exercise physiology and a pharmacist to talk about medical reactions for those on prescriptions."

The program for Albany firefighters has fired them up to exercise and eat right. Each of the 11 fire stations installed three exercise machines, making it more difficult to skip the workouts.

Fire Chief James Carswell made an hour's exercise mandatory for each shift.

Using two machines, an elliptical trainer and a stair climber, firefighters get cardiovascular workouts and burn calories. A Bowflex home gym allows for building muscle.

Firefighter Camden Woodlief, 24, is one success story. He has lost more than 50 pounds since starting healthy eating and exercising in February 2010. Other firefighters reported similar losses on the program.

The program seems to be common sense Woodlief said. It is a matter of burning more calories in exercise than the number of calories eaten.

Woodlief watches what he eats -- pizza and Buffalo wings are a treat. Otherwise he drinks a lot of water and eats salads, fish and chicken without skin. Along with his exercise it has paid off.

"I ran the full marathon in 5 hours 22 minutes at the Mardi Gras," Woodlief said. "I'm going to train for a triathlon. I just feel a lot better."

After receiving a federal grant for $237,676 to pay for 80 percent of health and wellness programs and equipment, Carswell came up with the rest.

"In the fall we took the Firefighter's Physical Ability Test," Carswell said. "Everyone made the grade."

At any minute of his shift a firefighter could be called on to run up four flights of stairs and carry a 185-pound person down the stairs for a rescue. Knowing firefighters are fit and ready benefits the public.

Fitness also benefits the firefighter and his family. Whether it was Carswell or Americus Fire Department Capt. Zane Newman they knew the statistics. Fifty percent of firefighters die of heart attacks, not from fire- related causes.

When Beverly Butcher saw Sabbs appear on television talking about the success of the Fired Up to Fitness program, she knew she had to invite the experts to Americus.

The city has offered a voluntary health and wellness program for its employees for a few years. Butcher has lost 110 pounds since beginning the program in 2009. She said she has 10 pounds to go.

"I did it slowly and I've kept it off," Butcher said. "I did it by eating right and I walk five miles a day. I've just started Zumba aerobics (a Latin-music-dance, fitness program), kickboxing and using weight machines."

The program lowers health insurance rates for participants in Americus. It will probably also pay for the Albany firefighters, an insurance account executive said.

When participants are healthy they don't make as many claims on insurance, said Deborah Phillips, of Dougherty, Duggan & Rouse Insurors. That allows insurance companies to make money and lower rates.

"The main reduction from health and wellness programs is a reduction in claims. Generally speaking when claims go down, the cost of insurance also goes down," Phillips said. "Many times a program will find something, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, that the person didn't know they had. They can then take steps. Health programs reduce employee absences, make happier employees and are a good idea."