Circuit Training – LAFD Style

October 31, 2018

“We train as if our life depends on it, so why wouldn’t we exercise the same?” Captain II Paul Ybarra explains to me as we sit in the front office of Fire Station 12. In a confident, but humble manner, Ybarra talked about his ambitious plan to change not only how firefighters exercise in the station, but also the duration in which they do it.

When Captain Ybarra first transferred to 12’s, he noticed that his crew’s exercise program varied from member to member. Some firefighters loved lifting weights while others worked more on the cardio components. This concerned him because his experience had taught him that the job of a firefighter is more than just about one’s strength or cardio conditioning, but instead a balance of the two, each exercise equally important to do the job safely and efficiently. Nowhere was this more apparent than when he observed probationary firefighters preparing for the phase testing portion of their training. There he witnessed that some of the recruits quickly fatigued and how that level of conditioning could translate into poor performance during the actual phase test.

As a Captain, he also knew he was in a position to change that by drawing from his experiences and implement, at the station level, the lessons he has learned over the years—and that is exactly what he did. With the help of his apparatus operator, Robert Stoffel, previously a captain in the U.S. Army and a West Point graduate, the two began developing a conditioning program that was not only creative but more importantly, designed and geared toward what a firefighter actually does while on scene of an emergency. With that, “circuit training” was born—LAFD style.

With a combination of strength building and endurance training, circuit training takes real-life scenarios and turns them into conditioning exercises. Ladders, hoses, and weights are used, along with the wearing of the breathing apparatus for some of the training evolutions. A lot of ingenuity went into the development of the program. Ybarra and Stoffel were able to incorporate the actual equipment used by firefighters into their exercises to make the experience more realistic.

The program starts out simple enough, with the crew gathering as a group for a quick stretching session. This is followed by a few short laps around the station to get the blood flowing. With the group warmed up and ready to work, the crew then separate into their individual exercise stations that are spread out around the station. This is one of the time-saving factors of the program. By having multiple stations, the individual firefighter can do his or her exercise independently of one another without impacting the time of others. Once that particular evolution is done, the crew simply rotates to the next station. Ybarra explains that by incorporating the multiple stations, the usual two-hours of exercise can be cut down to a challenging, but manageable, 30 minutes.

Ground ladders are used, some with added weight to simulate larger ladder. Hose lines were magically transformed into life size people—both male and female—for the purpose of a dragging exercise. A halyard pull is incorporated and so is a stair-stepping station that is sure to get one ready just in case they are called to a high-rise incident. The most challenging of the program, however, at least to this observer, was the use of a sledge hammer and a heavy tire. There, the participant uses the sledge in an axe-swinging motion, striking the tire and moving the heavy object a short distance across the yard. I got winded just watching. To say the least, the program is challenging to the beginner, but Captain Ybarra explains, “with a little time and effort on the part of the individual, even the seemingly weakest member of a crew can quickly progress to one of the strongest.” Another benefit of the program is its ability to adapt to the needs of the individual. If one member finds themselves lacking in one area, they can simply rotate back into that area of exercise until their performance improves.

Now, as with every exercise program, there will be one or two evolutions that some individuals will struggle, at least at first. However, with a little enthusiasm and the fortitude to want to improve one’s physical performance, the endurance will soon follow, allowing you to be more confident of the fire ground—all in just about 30 minutes a day.

1. Stretching and Warm-Up
2. Laps Around the Station (2X)
3. Step Test (10 evolutions with B/A)
4. 16-ft Ladder Raise (1 time)
5. Simulated 35-ft Ladder Raise (1-3 times)
6. Dumbbell Carry (simulates carry saws and tools)
7. Halyard Pull
8. Hose Drag
9. Sledge Hammer/Tire
10. Hose-Pack Carry
11. Laps around the station—Again (2x)
12. Repeat as Conditioning Increases and Time Permits

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