Get Fit RVA: Whitney Harris finds out what it takes to be a firefighter

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — The Get Fit RVA segment continues on Good Morning Richmond, where Whitney Harris works out with different groups to see “what it takes.”

The Richmond Fire Department put her to the test and she found it’s extremely physically demanding, especially with all the heavy gear firefighters have to wear.

“People come with different body shapes and body sizes, so there’s no such thing as the perfect firefighter build.”

“People come with different body shapes and body sizes, so there’s no such thing as the perfect firefighter build,” said Rodney Epps, the Richmond Fire battalion chief of training.

With that in mind, Whitney started off the way people hoping to become firefighters do — with a physical test. She did 500-meter row, 40 squats, 30 sit-ups, 20 push-ups, and 10 pull-ups — with a little help.

Next, putting on all that heavy gear.

“This job not only requires that you do things that require agility, but that you do it with weight applied to it,” said Rodney Epps, the Richmond Fire battalion chief of training.

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Whitney quickly learned that heavy weight makes doing the job that much more challenging.

And you have to get dressed quickly.

“Time is critical when we’re responding to a call,” said Lt. Chris Armstrong, Richmond Fire’s PIO.

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He said you should be able to put the turnout gear on in a minute or less, so he and Whitney raced to see if she could get it done.

Next, Whitney put the oxygen tank on. “It’s heavier than I thought,” she said to Lt. Armstrong. “You made it look easy.”

In all, the firefighters say the gear weighs about 50 pounds.

“It’s hot — it’s really really hot,” Whitney said.

The next challenge Whitney did was not good for anyone who is claustrophobic.

“We require that people are comfortable with confined spaces,” Battalion Chief Epps said.

She crawled through a pitch-dark maze. “Wish me luck,” she said.

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She made it through, but they weren’t done with her yet. They had her carry a dummy that weighs about 85 pounds. They then put it all together, riding in the truck as if they were responding to a call and jumping into action.

Battalion Chief Epps said the proper training is crucial for firefighters.

“Unfortunately in our career, one of the biggest killers of firefighters is cardiac arrest,” he said. “We want to ingrain in them habits of health and fitness that will help them in terms of their heart readiness to do the job. Once you put on gear and the heat goes up and fire is going, to inherently cause more stress on your body because of the amount of heat — your heart takes a huge beating because of the extra stress from firefighting in general.”

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But he stressed again there’s no such thing as the perfect firefighter build — saying for the most part they just want to know that prospective firefighters can do the job.

“Our job is to kind of mold them into a person who can take the job tasks that we give them and accomplish them,” Battalion Chief Epps said. “All of our training is built towards making sure they can do those jobs — whatever the jobs may be.”

And it’s not just physical training. Those hoping to become firefighters have a lot of classroom work as well.

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“For 24 – 26 weeks, we take them through various topics of firefighting, not only about fighting fires, but about EMS, hazardous materials, and various other topics,” Epps said.

Whitney asked Lt. Armstrong how he thought she did with the physical training.

“I think that you are a quick learner — you grasp every concept we put forward for you. I think you’re ready to come on,” he said.

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