Fire service gets jump on healthy 2015

Oak Bay Fire Department sees positive results from health program

Oak Bay Fire Chief Dave Cockle and Deputy Chief Tom Pearse flank Sara Wegwitz of Tailor Making Health in the workout room of the Monterey Avenue fire hall. The department and Wegwitz developed and implemented a health and wellness initiative among management and staff at the hall that led to impressive results.

While others start to wane from healthy new year promises, Oak Bay Fire Department basks in the results of its health and wellness campaign started last June.

What started as a labour management initiative, led to reduced sick hours and improved morale among the local fire department.

“We recognize the fact there are many stressors in the fire service,” said chief Dave Cockle. While fire calls have declined, calls such as first responder, hazardous materials and vehicle extraction are on the rise.

In June they started with a health risk assessment and a 90-day program delivered by RN Sara Wegwitz of Tailor Making Health, who used online programming with a holistic approach to nutrition, fitness and psychosocial wellness. They started with a baseline grid derived from the online questionnaire and a functional fitness test that applied from office staff through upper management.

“We wanted to see what’s happening in their lifestyle factors,” Wegwitz said. “It served as a really great baseline and a wakeup call.”

It was a complete collaboration, said deputy chief Tom Pearse, management and union members created a committee to implement and carry out the program with everyone on board.

“It’s been a great way to get buy-in from the crews,” Pearse said.

“It gives that sense of ownership and responsibility,” agreed Wegwitz. The amount of collaboration already in place as she came on board was a “refreshing twist” for the RN. They were not only all on the same page, Wegwitz noted with a chuckle, but in the same paragraph.

The results of a follow-up health risk assessment reflect that 100 per cent buy-in. Wegwitz says they improved by 30 per cent; lifestyle risk factors went down 45 per cent and quality of life was up 25 per cent.

“They’re sleeping better too, which is exciting,” said Wegwitz.

Management was heartened by a 40 per cent drop in sick leave, noted Cockle.

“We found we were getting guys back sooner,” he said.

Pearse says the program created tighter bonds between staff members, with some healthy rivalry added to the mix.

“Everybody was involved, we had 100 per cent participation and there wasn’t anybody who wasn’t excited about it,” Pearse said.

They also made minor shifts in a decades-old regimen at the fire hall on Monterey Avenue. While the trucks and gear are still checked at regulated times, tweaking mealtimes and other work activities “fixed a lot of mental acuity,” said Cockle

While January may see others sliding from their health resolutions, Oak Bay Fire and Wegwitz are planning professional presentations and interaction for staff on issues specific to its services over the next year.

“We’ve outlined what 2015 is going to look like,” Cockle said.

Oak Bay firefighters also want to share their health tips with the community. What better way than reaching out to Oak Bay News readers. In our pages each month readers will meet a firefighter in our community who will share a favourite recipe along with tips to achieve improved mental and physical health.

 

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