The idea came to UC Davis Fire Chief Nathan Trauernicht while considering recent applicants to his department’s popular student firefighter program.
Although hundreds of students typically apply for the program’s 15 spots, “the physical piece of it is usually the huge eliminator of possible candidates,” Trauernicht said, referring to the rigorous physical agility tests the contenders undergo.
As fire chief, Trauernicht wanted to offer something that not only better prepared future pools of aspiring firefighters, but also — as part of its mission to promote a healthy community — help others break out of their normal workout routines.
The result: Fit for Fire, a nine-week boot camp-style class that offers a combination of strength training and cardiovascular exercise, as well as speed- and agility-testing situations a firefighter could encounter on the job.
“Technique will only get you so far,” Trauernicht said. “What we’re trying to do is get you to that baseline of strength.”
Taught by UCD firefighters along with two personal trainers from the Fitness & Wellness division of the Department of Campus Recreation and Unions, the class takes place at the fire station on Kleiber Hall Drive, exposing its participants to a segment of the campus they might not otherwise seek out.
“It’s outreach to the community, to let them know that we’re here and what we have,” said Gina Updegraff, an acting fire captain at UCD who on her off days also works as a group fitness instructor.
Added Trauernicht: “It’s really bringing in all sorts of different people, which is exactly what we wanted.”
At one recent class, fitness instructors Aaron Heredia and Chris Peck created two fast-paced circuits for the hourlong class. Indoors, participants — this reporter included — built up their strength with squats, dumbbell swings and push-ups. Outside, the firefighting skills kicked in as the class carried ladders, ran through a cone course with wildland hose packs on their backs, and dragged their choice of fire hoses or a 165-pound dummy.
Other sessions have had participants performing ladder lifts, connecting and extending hose lines, and running up and down stairs while carrying heavy firefighting equipment.
“It gives you an appreciation for the strength they have to maintain,” UCD student Husein Rashid said of the class. The course appealed to him because “it seemed very practical, something I would use whether I decided to be a firefighter or not.”
“It’s a very diverse training regimen — that’s what’s very cool about this,” added Rashid, 22. “I’ve lost a little bit of weight, and I feel stronger.”
For 19-year-old Heidi Sorbello, who completed the Yuba Fire Academy back in December, the course enables her to keep up her physical conditioning while she applies for firefighting jobs.
“It has a lot of similar things to the academy,” Sorbello said. “They have great workouts. It’s definitely challenging.”
While Fit for Fire has mostly attracted students so far, organizers are hoping to draw participants from other segments of the community to future classes.
“We want to show there’s lots of different ways to exercise, and do it in a different environment,” Heredia said. And with a ratio of one instructor for every eight students, “it’s kind of the next best thing to personal training.”
“It’s appropriate for a lot of different populations,” Peck said of the exercises involved.
Fit for Fire is open to all UCD students, faculty and staff, as well as Davis residents with an Activities and Recreation Center membership. The cost is $60 for a nine-week course that will be offered quarterly.
For more information, visit campusrecreation.ucdavis.edu.
— Reach Lauren Keene at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-747-8048. Follow her on Twitter at @laurenkeene