Bryan Fass talks about what led to his becoming one of the foremost experts on injury prevention & fitness & shares some tips & insights.
Avi Schoenbrun » What did you get involved with first: fitness, sports or emergency response?
Bryan Fass » After 4 years of college I received a degree in sports medicine. I also received a national certification and licensure in athletic training, I am a certified strength training & conditioning specialist, and I have training in manual therapy. My specialty is spine rehab, chronic pain & sports performance. After about 15 years in the clinic I got bored. So I went back to school & got my EMT & then went on to my Paramedic training at Carolina Medical Center – the local trauma hospital in Charlotte, NC, I continued to work full-time in the clinic & part-time as a paramedic. This is how I kind of stumbled my way into what I’m doing.
AS » So it was a mix of fitness training & sports therapy with paramedic experience.
BF » Yup! That’s a good way to say it.
AS » So what motivated you to become involved specifically with emergency responder fitness? What problem did you see in the field that you wanted to solve & make a difference?
BF » I got tired of watching my peers, friends & co-workers, whether in EMS, fire or law enforcement, get hurt doing things that shouldn’t cause injury. I got tired of watching them eat foods that they shouldn’t be eating. I got tired of watching classmates who were healthy & agile when we were in school become obese & lazy, not exercise & get hurt 6 or 7 years later. I quickly realized that something needed to be done different in this industry.
AS » Since you’ve started, in what direction would you say emergency responder fitness is headed?
BF » You know, it’s made this interesting change in direction. Fitness is still alot of what we do, but ergonomics has taken on a big piece of what we’re currently doing.
AS » Can you clarify what you mean by ergonomics?
BF » When we’re talking about ergonomics, we’re talking about patient handling ergonomics, equipment handling ergonomics & using engineered solutions. An example would be transferring patients with slide sheets or transfer boards to reduce the friction when moving a patient. It makes total sense. You can significantly reduce the chance for injury when transferring a patient just by using common products on the market.
AS » What would you say is the most troubling issue related to emergency responder fitness?
BF » I would say that the most troubling issue is the lack of it. There are really just 2 extremes. There are folks who do everything possible to try & stay fit. I would say that they make up just a small portion of EMS society. Then you have the large portion of that society who do no exercise of any kind. Our business is essentially power lifting. We get paid to move heavy objects from a standstill position, from point A to Point B. But we don’t train as the athletes that we really are.
AS » Athletes. That’s an interesting outlook. I have seen on your site that you refer to EMTs as athletes.
BF » Yes I do.
AS » When you think about it, that’s really what they are. They rush here & there trying to perform their duty in the best & quickest way possible. Now that you mention it, it makes sense.
BF » Thanks.
AS » Would you share with us what you believe to be the 3 most important points or inspirations that emergency responders should be aware of?
BF » You know, I think we make fitness way too complicated.
- The most important thing that anybody could do in public safety is some type of pre-shift stretching. This can usually be done using the back of your truck. Do a quick hamstring stretch, hip flexor, gluts, calves, lats & chest. These are a couple of quick, easy stretches.
- From there, sometimes the best thing you can do when you’re on duty is play. There are simple tools like a reaction ball or frisbee or a little bit of wall ball. We’ve got the walls of bays & garages at our disposal. We can do fun things in uniform that increase our agility, make our balance better, help pass the time between calls & work on your fitness.
- The third thing, I would say, is at least 1 or 2 days a week get into the gym or use a set of exercise bands & just do some simple exercises. You can even do them on the back of a truck.
AS » So basically, it doesn’t have to be the chore that people think it is, & make a commitment. It doesn’t have to be a triathlon.
BF » Absolutely! Make it fun, make it effective but don’t make it something you’re going to dread.
AS » Can you give us 1 or 2 specific activities emergency responders can do to prevent injuries or pain?
BF » I sure can.
- Many people don’t realize that two of the body parts that contribute to lower back injury are the calves & ankles. If you don’t have good calf & ankle flexibility, you can’t squat down to pick up a patient off the ground or pick up a spineboard. Here are some stretches to help with this problem. Put your toes up against the wall & lean forward, stretching your calves.
- Another is to stand on the step plate in back of your ambulance with your toe on the step plate & let your heel hang down for 30 seconds. These have been proven to increase range of motion in the ankle & calf which will help you get proper depth so you can lift safely without using your back. Simple!
- Another one is a hip flexer stretch where you basically get into a lunge position with one leg behind the other until you feel a stretching in the front of the back leg. Hold that for 30 to 40 seconds with good posture.
These are simple stretches that require almost no equipment, & you can do them sporadically before or after your shift.
AS » I know what you mean. I was instructed to do some serious stretches before jogging. At the time it was painful, but afterwards I was able to jog far more easily than I would be able to without the stretches. It really made a big difference.
BF » Absolutely! The body has to be free to move & do what it needs to be able to do to generate power & force. It’s pretty simple!
AS » Any last thoughts you would like to leave us with?
BF » You know, when it comes to fitness & EMS like we’ve been talking about there really is no one solid answer. You’ve got to have decent products & use technology & engineered solutions like a slide sheet or board when you transfer patients on every single call. It makes a major difference. Also, invest in yourself. You only have one body, & unfortunately once you’ve sustained an injury your chances of surviving a career in EMS uninjured are less than 1%. So you almost have to pay it forward to the betterment of yourself & to your peers & patients to be proactive & not so reactive in being fit as our business has naturally made us to be.
AS » Bryan, this has definitely been enlightening & inspiring. It seems your doing a great job. Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts with us.