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Unique scheme set to keep firefighters in peak condition

A unique partnership between the University of Gloucestershire, Gloucestershire Fire and Rescue Service and Gloucestershire County Council – believed to be the first relationship of its kind in the UK – will help keep firefighters fit and prepared to save lives in the county.

The university has teamed up with the county’s fire and rescue service to offer a unique provision that will see a range of occupation health issues from retained and full-time firefighters get referred to the new fire service support scheme that is being run by University of Gloucestershire students and staff.

Being a firefighter is a highly demanding profession that is sometimes very dangerous – physically, psychologically and mentally. Fitness is very important in order to carry out the role effectively and injuries can also be a common occurrence. It is sprains, strains and other muscular injuries, not burns, which are the most common injuries firefighters receive in the line of duty. Firefighters’ protective gear keeps them from being burned, but the sudden nature of their work and the heavy lifting it often involves means muscles are at risk.

A successful trial ran across seven Gloucestershire fire stations, including stations in the Forest of Dean, North Cotswolds and the centres of Cheltenham and Gloucester, earlier this year. The trial saw the university offering fitness support, diet advice, injury rehabilitation and remedial sports massage, with a strong uptake from stations and individual firefighters.

Following the trial period, the partnership will now begin a wider programme of support throughout Gloucestershire. The rollout will include general fitness and diet advice and support for those training for specific events, support for those firefighters who are recovering from medical procedures and injuries effecting their fitness. Dedicated remedial massage therapy clinics will be run monthly at Gloucester North Fire Station and at alternating stations around the county.

Dr Andy Pitchford, Director of Sport at the University of Gloucestershire, said: “Work and discussion has been ongoing behind the scenes over the past couple of years. The fire service approached us to see if we could combine our academic expertise, knowledge and facilities to help firefighters maintain and improve their fitness levels and take on specific occupational health and injury referrals.

“A number of Gloucestershire’s firefighters have already benefitted from our students expertise, with support in specialist areas such as strength and conditioning, fitness testing and screening and massage.

“It’s the perfect partnership for us. Our undergraduate and masters students get to experience real life scenarios, practising what they learn on their course – overseen by experienced academic staff – and our community firefighters get to benefit from the knowledge and facilities that we have.”

Retained firefighters are vital to the smooth running of the county’s fire service. Often with full-time jobs alongside their fire duties, it’s important that retained firefighters get the support and expertise that will help them in their firefighting duties. Victim’s lives depend on them being able to do their jobs to the best of their abilities under the most demanding situations.

Clive Webber, Group Manager for Gloucestershire Fire and Rescue Service, said: “I had a sore heel that was affecting my ability to remain fit and active. The students at the University Clinic diagnosed the cause as an Achilles Tendon Bursitis. They introduced a combined approach of simple exercises, tape for support and some gentle massage to stimulate and build strength in the surrounding muscle tissue. This early intervention enabled me to make a full recovery and a return to fitness and sport in support of a healthy lifestyle.”

Cllr Will Windsor Clive, cabinet member for fire, planning and infrastructure at Gloucestershire County Council, said: “This joint venture brings real benefits to both the fire service and the university students. The students are getting hands on experience by putting into practise what they’ve learned, and our firefighters are helped to remain in good physical condition. The trial was so successful that we’re going to continue offering it, and will offer it more widely, so that more firefighters and students can benefit.”