Plano Gets Tough on Pudgy Firefighters

Plano is telling firefighters to get into shape or to face termination.

New department rules put firefighters behind a desk if they can't pass the annual fitness test. After that, they have one year to get into shape and pass the test or else they may be fired.

"We have a step test to test aerobic capacity. We have a flexibility test, a sit-up test, a push-up test and a percent body fat test," Battalion Chief Don Burks said.

Administrators said the tests are gender- and age-specific and are scored in their totality. A higher percentage of body fat, for example, can be balanced by hitting benchmarks for push-ups or sit-ups.

It's not expected that anyone will fail the exam. So far, 90 percent of Plano's firefighters have passed.

The city firefighters union isn't too fond of the plan, saying they preferred a system that rewards good health over punishing firefighters for bad health.

But the union said it supports the requirement for firefighters to be in shape.

"The association is 100 percent behind fitness requirement for firefighters," said Tony Brown, of the Plano Firefighters Association.

But it's a challenge to find time to work out between the daily maintenance of fire stations and spur-of-the-moment calls for service, he said.

Nationally, heart attacks top the list for causes of deaths in the line of duty among firefighters.

Capt. Kevin Wilkerson said, after 24 years of running into burning buildings, he knows the value of being physically fit.

"If you want to make 25, you need to stay in shape," he said.

Wilkerson said the fitness requirement builds unity in the station house.

"My thing always was that I wanted to be able to do my job, and if one of my boys got in a bind, I want to be there to help them," he said.

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