It’s the start of shift, and you grab your gear from your locker. After ritualistically putting it on the rig, you start changing batteries. Then, a fire tone comes through. Your boss comes around the front of the rig loudly reading the additional details from the rip and run. You got a job. Time to go! Where do you start? Get your gear on!
It doesn’t matter what department you’re on, there is a very specific protocol of what PPE to wear. Failing to wear it is never acceptable. If you’re on MY crew and YOUR gear ain’t ready when it’s time to go, we WILL be ‘conversing’ later in my office. But more important than avoiding reprimand, is being an asset. Without your gear, you’ll either be left outside the hot zone, or be putting yourself at risk of injury or worse. Since our gear is so critical, my crews habitually take time to CHECK YOUR GEAR.
CHECK YOUR GEAR is a cue used in FD-PT to remind firefighters to be put themselves in the safest position before moving into ACTION. When you have become proficient with this skill you will establish healthy habits that will protect the spine while creating efficient mechanics to improve performance, safety and energy conservation. Because firefighters dress from the ground up, CHECK YOUR GEAR is done the same way. For that, we will be referencing your BOOTS , BUNKER PANTS, SPANNER BELT, SCBA and HELMET.
BOOTS – Feet and ankles
BOOTS references your feet and ankles. At fires, we are often positioned in a way that prevents ideal foot placement and pressure, but in our EMT we can establish optimal placement and pressure. As we become proficient in these conditions we can progress towards safe yet less than optimal positions and placement. In optimal placement, you want your boots in some variation of shoulder width apart and with even pressure on each to support your weight equally. When performing a task, you’ll find that the heel of your BOOTS is going to be driven into the ground as you move. Your BOOTS should not turn outward, flatten or rise up at the heel.
BUNKER PANTS – Knee alignment
BUNKER PANTS and boots go hand in hand. You could say they go foot in foot. Sorry. But every firefighter sets their bunker pants with their boots already inside them because it makes getting dressed so easy. Our knees and ankles are two very different but close joints and thrive interdependently. This interdependent relationship calls for your ankle to move freely while relying on your knee to hinge stably. In order for this relationship to be the best they need to stay in these roles with proper knee alignment. Proper knee alignment allows for efficient movement for greater safety, energy conservation and performance. Your BUNKER PANTS should stay directly above your BOOTS without falling inward, pressing excessively outward or going past your BOOTS
SPANNER BELT– Level Lumbo Pelvic Hip Complex (LPHC) and Intra-Abdominal Pressure
After you’ve got your boots, bunker pants and coat on, you move to your spanner belt. Your spanner belt is used to reference the LPHC. Your LPHC, found in your pelvis and lumbar spine, influences over 30 muscles making it essential for efficient task performance which integrate your lower and upper body together. In order for this bridge to occur, it must be aligned properly. Think about the ring of your SPANNER BELT. Functional alignment would place the ring of your SPANNER BELT so that it is parallel with your BOOTS. However, this position is not common. Instead of being parallel with our BOOTS, the SPANNER BELT of many firefighters point in a slight downward angle causing dysfunctional posture. This dysfunctional posture is called lower crossed syndrome and is characterized by an anterior pelvic tilt, thoracic extension, and lumbar lordosis as the result of overactive lower back and hip flexor and underactive abdominals and glutes/hamstrings. This commonly causes back pain, poor movement, and inefficient performance between upper and lower body. To work on correcting this dysfunction during your EMT, squeeze your glutes and your abdominals to create a level a level SPANNER BELT.
Another cue to remember when running a CHECK YOUR GEAR is to create pressure in the deep muscles of your core. To do this you want to press into compress your ribs and viscera for proper stability to your thoracic and pelvic regions. One way you can practice this to hold your hands just under your chin like a boxer, tighten up your abdominals by slightly pulling your shoulders forward towards your hips with minor thoracic flexion. This small movement accompanied with forceful exhalation with help you create as much tension in your abdominals as possible. Relax before doing this again. Do this twice, then do the same thing to each side of your hips with lateral thoracic flexion. Now, do the same for your lower back by pulling your shoulders slightly behind your hips with thoracic extension. It’s important to note that this is a very small movement even though you are creating a lot of tension. This tension should become familiar in order to protect the most vulnerable and loaded segment of your spine.
SCBA – Spinal alignment and shoulder position
You get in the rig. What’s the next thing you put on? IT BETTER BE YOUR SEATBELT! If this whole campaign is about taking care of the most valuable asset to the fire service, you, you’d better be wearing your seat BELT! I know is hard to remember after years of bad habits, but the seconds you’ll spend putting it on can make all the difference. In fact, some of you reading this can credit your seatbelt for saving your life. Alright time to get off the soap box. Know what forget that! wear your stupid seatbelt! Ok, once that’s on, you put on your SCBA. Our SCBA is unique in that it spans the entire length of our spine. This provides a great cue to how our spine should be positioned when you are performing your EMT. Unfortunately, most of us are limited by more postural dysfunction related to our spines.
Many of us are in postural dysfunction during static and dynamic movement with postural lumbar lordosis or thoracic kyphosis, or thoracic extension and thoracic flexion during movement. Lumbar lordosis arches or sways our lower back pulling our t slightly back. Thoracic kyphosis is one of the characteristics of upper crossed syndrome, where the upper back curves forward. While we may not clinically have a postural dysfunction strong enough to clinically be diagnosed with these conditions, it is important to be aware of these positions as postural dysfunctions which limit your ability to safely transfer power from your core and move properly. You should also be aware of how your spine responds to movements. Thoracic extension occurs when you arch your back behind your hips and thoracic flexion occurs when you round your shoulders towards your hips. Both of these are very common among firefighters and would cause your SCBA to make unintentional contact with your back. As you go into thoracic extension, it would push into your lower back and as you go into thoracic flexion it would pull away from your lower back. This is not what you want.
Another common dynamic compensation can be found when moving through the search position or primary search. Many people lack core strength to hold their body in these positions while moving. So, they hike their hips up far above their shoulders. This inefficiency loads the shoulders up and causes your SCBA to slide towards your head. This compensation leads to excessive energy expenditure, poor performance, and potential injury. Another compensation (I know there are a lot of compensations), is due to the lack of core rotary stability, or your ability to control rotational forces when removing a point of support. This occurs as the result of rotating your body from side to side as you move. Poor rotary stability in these positions would cause your SCBA to slide from left to right.
Once again, while an individualized corrective exercise program is the best way to address these problems, you can still teach healthy habits in your EMT. With both of these you want to be in neutral spinal alignment so that your SCBA is flat against your entire back and doesn’t slide up or to either side. To check your SCBA, make sure you are aligning your shoulders with your hips, even when bending forward, and reduce/eliminate shoulder dropping and hip dipping as you move during pdsrimary search and search positions.
HELMET – Head position
My helmet goes on my dome just before I get out of the rig to an emergency. I don’t like the feeling of riding in the rig with it on. While all gear is important, fire helmets are the most indicative thing for firefighters. Just imagine if you saw someone on scene without their leather. It would be weird right? The same rings true for our EMT. Our HELMET is the cue for our head position.
Our helmet and collar create visual limitations restricting our perspective of the fire scene. In order to navigate through these limitations we need to create space between our helmet and our collar. However, many of us habitually crowd them together. When our HELMET or head position crowds our collar or shoulders it encourages our shoulders to round forward, another characteristic of upper crossed syndrome. This postural dysfunction is the result of overactive upper traps, pecs and levator scapula and underactive neck flexors, lower traps and rhomboids. The problem here is that it can lead to shoulder injuries since your shoulders are improperly secured.
Our helmet is also intended to protect our head from falling objects. Looking up or down during our EMT puts our cervical spine in flexion or extension. This misalignment applies unintended gravitational forces to our cervical spine and can lead to injury due to poor alignment.
Lastly, our helmet is intended to shed water, debris and embers from falling down our coat. The design has a longer bill in the back so that it extends beyond our coat. Remember that guy in the academy was convinced his helmet was a baseball hat and wore it backwards? Yeah, he didn’t graduate from my class either. He was negating specific design of the helmet. It could do what it was intended to do. We can have inhibited neck flexors that cause us to assume a sniffing position like someone who is having trouble breathing. This postural dysfunction, another characteristic of upper crossed syndrome, negates our head from being where it is supposed to be. Referencing our helmet is a great cue for our head position.
I have to admit, I’m negligent of monitoring my helmet during my EMT. Looking at pictures and videos, it becomes apparent that there is still room for me to improve my GEAR CHECK. To check your HELMET, create space between your helmet and your shoulders keeping your helmet parallel with your shoulders while making sure the bill is pulled back so that your ears are over your shoulders.
Remember, when you were in the academy and it took you twice as long to get dressed and you had to concentrate while doing it? It was uncomfortable and awkward to have all that equipment on and then move into ACTION. But think about how it is now for you. You do it faster and without much thought. The same is/will be true with establish a GEAR CHECK before you begin any movement. If applying the above GEAR CHECK leaves you feeling stiff, awkward and uncomfortable, don’t abandon it. You didn’t stop before when it was tough. That is what made you good at wearing it. Don’t give up on your gear here! Give it time and practice! Find time throughout the day to do a random GEAR CHECK during everyday activities, otherwise known as a Postural Accountability Check. These P.A.R’s just like the ones on scene, allow you to do a roll call of your posture see what is out of place. See where you are at. Get so good at it that feels natural, familiar and instinctually. You need your gear to be safe. Use it and be safe!