Thurles firefighter Marc Mulhaire
Marc Mulhaire is a firefighter based in Thurles, County Tipperary, who is facing into 12 or 13-hour stints with his colleagues, tackling fires in the current drought. He was speaking in Thurles, at the official launch of Setanta College's Wellness Programme for Tipperary Fire & Rescue Service.
It's the first of its kind in this country and it aims to support the health and wellness of firefighters, who are facing extreme conditions around the country.
Two years ago, management in the Tipperary Fire & Rescue Service approached Setanta College with the idea of taking a long-term view on the issue. Dave Carroll is the county's Chief Fire Officer.
He said: ‘There’s been a longstanding emphasis on the ‘safety’ element of health and safety in the workplace. We wanted to develop the idea of employee and firefighter health. I was conscious that ours is a very stressful job and while counselling is made available to our crews after difficult operations, it’s well known that fitness is a great stress reliever too. We are also very interested in the injury reduction aspect is also vital - research has shown that a healthier, fitter workforce is a happier and more productive workforce’.
That first contact developed into an four phase programme. Detailed screening of 40 firefighters, across areas like fitness, nutrition, BMI and movement patterns. On the basis of the test results, Course Coordinator Luke Jordan devised six
week intensive training plans for each firefighter.
One student from each fire station in Tipperary signed up for a 10 week Functional Screening course at Setanta College. It gave them the skills to work with colleagues in identifying faulty movement patterns and assign exercises to remedy them, ultimately helping to prevent injuries and improve performance while on callouts.
All students were signed up to a 10-week resistance training course and to help with that, four fire stations are installing gyms, to help members train on an ongoing basis. The gyms are being kitted out with equipment sourced from BLKBOX in Belfast, and plans are underway to have a gym fitted in every Tipperary fire station by the end of next year.
Dr Liam Hennessy is Setanta College's founder and Academic Director - he believes the programme's approach maximises the potential benefits:
He said: ‘The goal is to train Fire Service personnel to not only enhance their own skills in fitness and wellness development but to assist colleagues and promote improvement in lifestyles in the long term, this in turn feeds into their wider lives and those of their families. That's the kind of impact that could benefit people in all kinds of industries and groups around the country and we are delighted to see such forward thinking by the Tipperary Fire & Rescue Service whose enthusiasm led to this exciting initiative. Our team at Setanta College will continue to support each of our 14 fire-fighters who are now qualified Setanta Wellness Officers and we are very proud to be involved’.
Dave Carroll continued: ‘The Wellness programme has been so well received here in Tipperary and beyond - already Fire Services in Cork, Waterford and Clare have expressed an interest in it, so I’m confident there’s plenty of scope for it to grow in the future’.
Marc Mulhaire, Thurles firefighter: "I joined the fire service six years ago. Up until then I played rugby, but I had to retire. It's hard to commit to a training schedule when you could get a callout at any moment. I used to train four nights a week, but since I started with Setanta I've learned I wasn't doing it right at all. Within the first six weeks of the programme I could see a big change in my fitness levels at work. Little things like being able to get over walls quicker can make a big difference when the pressure's on.
"I've really seen benefits in my life outside work too. I'm much more aware of how I move and things like posture. I've even got my little girl a new schoolbag with wheels because I understand the risks that go with carrying around heavy things, and I couldn't believe the weight of her old one.
"Having the gym in the station is a major bonus. It makes it as easy as possible to stay fit and well in a way that suits the job. Anything that makes callouts safer and easier can only be a good thing. All the lads are going to have our targets and goals up on the wall too - sure a little healthy competition doesn't hurt!'