By Sue Ellen Woodcock
To be a firefighter the best candidates are in good physical shape. Fire Chief Paul Flanagan wants to encourage his firefighters and others to stay in shape, and many of them have taken Flanagan’s wishes to heart.
Flanagan takes on his own physical fitness everyday at RPM Fitness and he goes running. The bug caught on with other firefighters after the Firefighters Freedom Race, held in memory of a fallen Peabody firefighter last February. Capt. Steve Calandre ran the race and others followed.
“Eight firefighters ran representing Winthrop in 37 degree weather,” Flanagan said. “They all finished in the top 20, and they have run in four road races since.”
At a recent road-race, in Winthrop, Flanagan finished first in the Over 60 bracket, with his youngest firefighter just a minute ahead of him. Besides the fitness, Flanagan also likes the camaraderie he sees among his firefighters.
At the same road race firefighter Mike Lopez, a special ops veteran, finished first in the firefighters division while running with an American flag.
But the health of the firefighter is what concerns Flanagan. It was 30 years ago this August that fire departments stopped emptying the ash trays at the fire house.
“1988 was the heart-lung bill for the firefighters. No longer is the use of any tobacco product allowed,” Flanagan said. “Now, it’s a healthier occupation.”
Flanagan said a healthy firefighter makes for a more fit fire department. A firefighter has to be able to pick up a 250 pound person and take that person down a set of stairs. They also have to be able to put on 70 pounds of equipment, including clothing that protects the body from heat. Dealing with the effects of heat in the summer time is also better with a fit firefighter.
“With a more fit fire department you stop the strains and the back injuries,” Flanagan said. “A firefighter in good condition can better deal with adversity.”
Flanagan said he’d also like to see other town departments make fitness a priority. Already he’s seeing the Police Department taking notice. Flanagan and Police Chief Terence Delehanty have long been walking partners.
“I hope the program grows and we get to compete with other departments in games of floor hockey and basketball,” Flanagan said.
The Winthrop Fire Department has been working with the Boston Fire Department on the O2X Performance program. Four firefighters will attend the upcoming session.
“They look at us as tactical athletes,” Flanagan said. “It’s all about core strengths, protecting knees and rotator cuffs. Not being in shape costs the community.”
Flanagan said one of his firefighters, Nicholas Leonard, a Coast Guard veteran will be running the Marine Road Race in Washington D.C., in August.