Putting Ice on the Fire: Make Incumbent Physical Ability Tests Effective and Safe
By Rana DeBoer, MS
Work Well Manager, City of Sioux Falls
By Kelly Marshall, MS, OTR
Regional Dir., Health and Productivity Analytics
Recruiting and retaining good public safety employees can be a difficult task. Ask law enforcement executives in North America to list the most challenging internal issue facing their respective agencies today, and the vast majority will cite recruiting talent. Given the high-stress environment of the public safety profession, recruiting the next generation of public servants is more difficult than ever.
Add on-the-job stressors, relationship strain, and a highly physically and mentally demanding occupation, and total worker health can seem completely unattainable as a goal. Nevertheless, the city of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, has implemented a variety of strategies and tools to pursue that goal within its Fire Rescue and Police Departments.
Fitness for Duty
For Sioux Falls Fire Rescue (SFFR), a key tool to use toward total worker health is fitness-for-duty testing. In 2009, SFFR ceased using the standard Candidate Physical Ability Test (CPAT) used by many departments and developed its own customized Incumbent Physical Ability Test (IPAT).
Spurred by strong research and statistics shared at a national fire service conference on what was really causing line-of-duty deaths, the fire chief decided to prioritize health and wellness. Research showed that fire personnel had lower levels of health and fitness than the average population, with 40% to 50% of line-of-duty deaths caused by a heart attack.1,2 Further, the risk of heart disease decreased with higher levels of cardiovascular fitness.3
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