By JONATHAN ZWEYGARDT
Hays Post

As the department focuses more on health and safety, Ellis County emergency personnel now have their own fitness room at the Emergency Services building.

A fitness room in the basement of the EMS building was in the original plans but, in an effort to reduce the cost of the project, it was scrapped. However, thanks to several donations, grants and volunteer work, the fitness room opened on June 27.

“When this building was originally designed, it had a fitness room,” Director of Fire and Emergency Management Darin Myers said. “Due to costs at the time when we first built it and opened, that room was cut out.”

He said officers within the Ellis County Fire Department began discussing ways to help the volunteers improve their health and one of the first ideas was to provide physicals for the firefighters. They also wanted a way to provide them a place to work out.

Myers said they then started to look at ways they could construct the room themselves.

After talking with firefighters who work out at Munsch Fitness, Jacob Proffitt was the first to donate equipment to the project. The also received equipment donations from the owner of a Planet Fitness franchise in North Carolina, Myers said.

Midwest Energy provided a $1,000 grant and the department received from a $500 grant from State Farm agent Matt Lyon. The Ellis County Commission also approved $29,424 of sales tax funds to help pay for construction. Those funds were left over from the original building project.

After a contractor finished out the room, the firefighters primed and painted the room in an effort to save money on the project. Then, when the equipment came in, more than a dozen firefighters and their friends helped unload the equipment and take it down to the room on a Sunday.

Myers said they handed out more than 70 keycards to firefighters and members of the Emergency Medical Services and Ellis County Sheriff’s Departments also have access. He said since it opened on June 27, he has seen someone using the equipment every day.

“That’s another benefit of getting on our fire department,” said Myers. “I know some of the firefighters are paying upwards of $50 per month (for gym memberships.)”

The space before the renovation.

Company 6 Fire Captain Chris Cline said it is a great benefit for the firefighters.

“It’s amazing. It’s a huge bonus for the department and for the members,” Cline said. “Firefighting is one of the most physical jobs you can possibly do, so anything that can help me gain an advantage out in the field is a plus.”

According to Myers, over the last 10 years the majority of firefighters who have died in the line of duty were volunteers and of all deaths among firefighters the majority of them are cardiac related.

“The statics show that cardiac-related deaths … are the leading cause of way firefighters die in the United States,” Myer said. “So the strength equipment is not as important as some of the others — running on a treadmill or using a bike, elliptical or trainer.”

Ellis County Health Administrator Kerry McCue said EMS employees had previously brought in their own equipment to work out because they understood the value of preventing injuries by staying in shape.

McCue said, “Back injuries are career-enders for EMS personnel, and this is a way to protect staff.”

Now that the construction of the fitness room is complete, the new fire department policy on physicals will begin soon.

Myers said in the beginning there was some skepticism from the firefighters because of the unknowns surrounding the policy but, now that they have settled on what Myers calls and “enhanced” DOT physical, he believes the program has a lot of support.

There is a pulmonary or lung capacity test, a drug test, blood work and a physical assessment or capacity test.

“It’s a big adaptive challenge for our fire department,” said Myers.

He said the physicals, which are based on national standards, are also an effort to change the culture of the department.

“Being aware of the importance of being physically fit for your own safety but also for the firefighters (whose) lives are on the line right next to you,” Myers said.

Myers added that his No. 1 objective is to protect the firefighters, but this also helps to protect the public.

“If we can’t do our job, then we need to be finding ways to do it better – and this is one way to do it,” Myers said. “We owe it to the community, and the community expects us to provide that service for them.”

They will begin implementing the new physical policy in January with half of the department and the rest of the department the year after that in an effort to save the county money.

“It’s kind of a proud moment that they’re taking that initiative to increase their health,” Myers said. “Part of these whole physicals are not just being physically fit but the preventative measures.”

This content was originally published here.

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