By Rachel Rice
The Westlake Fire Department is inviting the public to work out like a firefighter during their free boot camp throughout May at Shepherd of the Hill Lutheran Church, run by Westlake firefighter Lt. Ryan Vacek, author of the Fire Athlete Fitness Program.
Vacek, who has been a firefighter for 13 years, Vacek said he noticed his own physical fitness slipping and created the fire athlete fitness program in 2006.
“In the fire department, there was an obvious lack of physical training, and the budgets of the fire department didn’t include much for physical fitness,” Vacek said. “I created a workout designed to help firefighters battle the number-one duty death, which is cardiac arrest.”
Vacek researched workouts and observed which motions and actions firefighters took in the line of duty every day. He created a workout to optimize the body and performance of a firefighter, using an old fire hose as a prop during much of the workout.
“It strengthens the core abdominal section and lower back and improves cardio,” Vacek said. “Most importantly, it’s a heart-healthy workout.”
The workout is designed to raise participants’ heart rates to simulate the way a firefighter’s heart rate increases while fighting a fire or performing a rescue operation, but within a controlled workout environment. The workout format spurred enough interest that Vacek started workout classes at the Jollyville Fire Station twice a week, which Vacek called “wildly successful.”
“The north boot camp has been going over a year now and has 120 active members; it’s been a big hit,” Vacek said. “That’s the main reason we want to give it a shot down here (at Shepherd of the Hill Lutheran Church).”
Though the workout is targeted at firefighters, the workout is beneficial to anyone of any fitness level, age or gender, said Firefighter Rusty DeFoy.
“The exercises mimic what we do on a daily basis but they’re good for everybody,” DeFoy said. “If you’re not in terribly good shape, you can still get a workout on your level … At first some people are hesitant because it’s called fire athlete boot camp; they think it’s going to be muscle head guys everywhere but it’s not like that at all.”
The boot camp will be every Monday and Wednesday in May from 6-7 p.m. in the church parking lot at 3525 Bee Cave Road. The classes are free all month for newcomers, though donations are encouraged. Vacek said the success of their north location and the positive feedback the fire department has gotten will hopefully translate to a successful second location.
“[Participants] love to meet the guys there who work to protect them and their family and their homes, but meet them at a time when it’s not an emergency,” he said. “They feel very comfortable knowing that we take a very high importance to physical fitness so that when they do call us, we’re ready to go physically.”
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