Fire Editor 360: Dodge Ball, Update

Editor’s Note: Chief MacAdam of one of the departments in the video responded and shared more, especially highlighting how his department considered safety, fitness and more.  See below.

A recent video from USA TODAY showed firefighters from two departments participating in a friendly game of dodge ball while wearing and using their SCBA.  The idea isn’t necessarily new and as we have seen and been shown, is not limited to just dodge ball.  A quick YouTube search can show you firefighters playing basketball while ‘on air’.  

Some readers find it to be a fun, encouraging, teamwork type of training while others can see a better way to train on air management and SCBA instead of playing a game.

Erich Roden, Editor-in-Chief FireRescue Magazine:

Here are my thoughts on the dodge ball, SCBA idea:
–    PPE manufacturers make what we ask for. As a result, we’re seeing unnecessary TPP resulting in decrease mobility due to the materials technology to facilitate astronaut-level protection, which leads to greater stress on the body.
–    Fund a new study that looks at the efficacy of bunker gear to do what we exactly want and need it to do – and how clean we can actually get it.
–    We need to look at underlying physical conditioning and come to an agreement that we need fitness standards. There’s no excuse for not being in shape, especially if you’re paid to be a firefighter
–    The fire service needs better education on the activities that increase the chances of underlying conditions from materializing on the fireground. For example, we start dehydrating ourselves with coffee during the first hour of our day at work…
–    Most professional fire departments have mandatory health and wellness programs. These should be a funding priority in city governments and we need to do a better job of educating them on the fact that it’s not fires that make this job dangerous, but rather, the same things killing the rest of the population

Bill Carey, Online News Manager, FirefighterNation/FireRescue Magazine

Every department, instructor, officer and firefighter across the nation occasionally runs into a bit of a training rut in their department.  Dodge ball, in my opinion, is no big deal as long as it is the game it is supposed to be.  To pass it off as training is flimsy at best since it fails to teach anything beyond SCBA user comfort and regularity.  We need to be careful, or instead aware, that any type of physical training related to firefighting will require individuals to exert themselves and place stress on their bodies.  This isn’t stressing a statement in an over-sensitive manner but a reminder that we have seen and will continue to see firefighter fatalities that occur during physical training and fitness training.

In 2015 seven firefighters died while doing training.  This year six have died, the latest on 29 October, and the majority of those were due to cardiac issues. Two of those deaths are more specifically related fitness training including one that occurred during a fire department’s recruit training process.

‘We don’t know what we don’t know’ is an important phrase to remember in our education and training. Past NIOSH firefighter fatality investigation reports regarding cardiac deaths and training can be found where in some instances EMS, or even an AED, were not standing by during the event. As usual the often repeated recommendations “Ensure that all fire fighters receive an annual medical evaluation consistent with NFPA 1582, Standard on Comprehensive Occupational Medical Program for Fire Departments” and “Phase in a mandatory comprehensive wellness and fitness program for fire fighters” are repeated in these reports.

Other often repeated ones come from the department descriptions:

“The FD does not require pre-placement or periodic medical evaluations.”
“No annual physical ability test is required.”
“Periodic medical evaluations are not required for all fire fighters.”
“The FD does not require periodic (annual) medical evaluations or medical clearance to wear a respirator.”

As the fire service continues to work toward reducing line of duty deaths take the time to ensure your firefighters are being given every opportunity to be protected as best as possible. That should include going beyond the dodge ball game and any fantasy where the participant might think to themselves ‘Well, I got winded, but I’m still in good shape and I didn’t suck my bottle down.’  Be smart about how our firefighters are dying and what we need to learn in our training.

Chris McLoone, Senior Editor, Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment

In the past year, I’ve seen two different videos on that present drills fire companies can use to learn more about their PPE. One is a company playing dodge ball in full turnout gear, including SCBA. The second is personnel playing basketball in their full turnout gear and SCBA. At first glance, I thought they were pretty cool ways to gauge your own endurance, air consumption rate, and how you move in turnout gear. I don’t disagree that these types of drills could be useful and helpful to know about PPE and physiology, but that is actually why I hesitate to run these drills in my own fire company–the research into how today’s PPE affects our body in terms of heat stress is ongoing, and quite frankly, I don’t want to kill anyone.

The fact is that someone could die playing dodge ball or someone could die crawling around a burn building. I think there is more value in learning how to manage your air and how your body behaves in PPE in an environment that more closely replicates what you may find at the scene of a fire. Could a death be caused by a previously unknown condition? Yes, many times. And, we know that. Why kill someone doing something that isn’t even related to what they were going to do on the fireground? Dodge ball isn’t the same as dragging a line under stress and with adrenalin pumping.

Dodge ball is only one thing. There is also a video of people playing basketball in their PPE/SCBA. I’ve played basketball, and I’ve fought fire. The up and down and back and forth of basketball and the way your body reacts is not the same as advancing a line, fully encapsulated, in far higher temperatures than you’re going to find on the court.

We know that heart attacks continue to be at the top of the list as line-of-duty death causes every year. And, the heart attacks don’t always occur at the scene of a fire or training evolution. They often occur after a firefighter has gone off duty for the day. Why create an environment that doesn’t mirror active firefighting and possibly kill someone? To me, it has to do with being a responsible training officer and custodian of the crews’ health and safety.

I don’t fail to see how the dodge ball or basketball evolutions can be beneficial to learning how PPE behaves and conserving air, etc., and how it’s a fun way to train. But, I think if any department chooses to do this, it had better have EMS standing by or at least there should be some screening going on before anyone gets to do it. When my guys go through the FF1 live burn evolution, they get readings taken before and after. This should be treated no differently.

Chief Stephen MacAdam

I read your piece and agree with most of your points, especially the point of fire fighter fitness.  I am the Chief of one of the departments involved in the Dodge Ball game. It wasn’t super stressful.  It was took place on a training night and it was fun.  Games each took about 7 minutes to complete.  Members hydrated between games and we change players in and out of games.  To start with each FF had to run to the center and don their gear.  The winner won a ball for their team.  Some FFs used a large amount of air, some less.  The goal was to have people move in their gear in ways they may not normally move on a day to day basis, realize that you have limited visibility and sometimes you need to move your body or your head in order to see with your eyes. It was also a way for two departments that sometimes run calls together to get to know each other better..

We looked at safety requirements and wondered if people would run too fast and get hurt (You really cannot run too fast in full gear)  We had someone to watch for hydration and did a safety briefing before hand.  Doing the “drill”, we realized you could invite your local EMS in  as it is a great way to practice rehab and pressure checks.  In the end it was fun, FF met members of other departments, hopefully some people decided to do some more fitness activities and it reminded FF that operating in full gear and SCBA takes a different mindset.

We took safety precautions so FF had a chance to cool down and hydrate between games.  We made sure that the games were limited in time and that FF checked on each other.  It wasn’t a drill that would match conditions of a fire but a way to remind you that when you wear gear, you have to think and act differently.

In my department we have a decent fitness program.  We have gyms in our stations, bring a trainer in to work with FF and their families on a weekly basis and have built a relationship with our local JCC to provide free memberships to our members and discounted ones for their families.  We participate in the Lung Association Stair Climb and several other 5ks in the area as a department. 

It may be interesting to see how other departments can make connections with local gyms for fitness benefits.

We encourage you to share your thoughts as well. Drop us a line at

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