“Hey Chief. What you need?” Incident command looks at you as your crew sets up for supply. “Alright you’re second engine and we got no trucks.” You look back and see Engine 49, Med 19 and your guys working. There’s a charged line off Engine 49 that leads down the pump panel next to the Engine 49’s HEO who is radioing to your driver. The line continues around to the C side of this 1 story ranch. The first line is clearly in the right place but it isn’t advancing on this 1st floor fire. You look at the flames and you can tell it’s been burning for a while. It has self-vented from 2 of the A side windows in the living room impinging on the eves and smoke conditions towards the D side indicate another room is verging towards flashover soon. Drawing on your experience, you know we have to get a knock down fast.

“See what is holding up the line.” You nod to the chief and with your halligan and flashlight you move to the C side of the structure. At the back door you see 2 junior firefighters masked up and crouched down holding a charged hose line. Nothing about their position seems confident. Their officer, a friend of yours, is violently mule kicking the lower end of the door. BANG! BANG! It’s obvious he’s getting more and more frustrated and fatigued with each kick. “Hang on,” you say. He stops with unspoken relief. You notice a flathead axe in one of the spanner belts of the firefighters. Perfect. Quickly you grab him and get to work. Shock, gap, wedge, set, force. The academy served him well. He needs very little reminding. The door is forced. Dark smoke spews out as you regain control of the door. “You set?” Your buddy gives a thumbs up as he clicks in his MMR. You step out of the way and they pursue the fire. With a methodical coordinated effort, you hear, “Engine 49 to command. Fire’s knocked down” and continue towards salvage and overhaul. Getting the line into place was critical and your knowledge of how to use the irons played a key role.

Firefighting equipment is incredibly diverse but without you meaningless. What you bring to them is what saves lives. As a result, the ownership is ours to continue learning how to perform with them. The same goes for the tools we use in our emergency movement training. The equipment we use in our emergency movement training needs to expand our knowledge of how we move. This emphasis is crucial for all equipment and the pinnacle for using the Ultimate Sandbag. The Ultimate Sandbag, or USB, utilized in the Dynamic Variable Resistance Training (DVRT) system, is incredibly versatility, unique and extremely applicable for firefighters. Here, we are going to explore how the USB can be used in your emergency movement training for creating transferrable skills, increasing dynamic stability while protecting your lower back.

We are pragmatists. Firefighters recognize the worth of something through application, relevance and outcome. Consequently, our emergency movement training needs to make direct connections with the duties and responsibilities of all firefighters. Replicating our duties and tasks is the easiest way to make these connections. This will create buy in while actively developing transferrable skills from training to the fire ground. The Ultimate Sandbag allows you to do exactly this. One of the many ways that it connects with our duties is in it’s uniquely designed handles. But first think about a saw. It’s midline and center of mass are in two different positions. The center of mass is closer to the blade because it is the heaviest part of the saw. This also influences the positioning of the handles providing you with optimal control. Just like the saw, all the equipment we have and the handles we use, are situated ergonomically in a way that impacts how it’s weight reacts when held and moved. This mismatch in midline and center of mass is characteristic for the overwhelming majority of firefighting equipment.

What we use is unsymmetrical. The Ultimate Sandbag is exactly this. Unsymmetrical. Due to all the grains of sand, the midline and center of mass are never the same. The Ultimate Sandbag is filled with countless grains of sand within the 2 filler bags inside an outer shell. There are 4 types of handles, which I call the ALPHA, BRAVO, CHARLIE, DELTA handles when training firefighters. These create combinations that distinctively replicate the swinging, swaying and unsymmetrical fire ground equipment we use. When you hold the ALPHA handles, the sand responses in one way. When you hold the CHARLIE handles the sand responds in a different way. When you mix handle combinations there is a very unique response. Consider the saw again. When you use the BRAVO/CHARLIE handle combination you are creating the same weight shift as the saw. The sand will begin to slide away from your body shifting the weight towards the “blade”. Lastly, when we put a tool like the saw into motion it begins to swing as it tries to find balance making each movement different that the last. The same occurs when we hold the Ultimate Sandbag and put it into motion. With 14 handle combinations, the equipment we use is easily replicated to create those transferrable skills.

Dynamic stability is your body’s ability to maintain it’s position when acted upon by an active external stimulus. As firefighters, we are constantly under active external stimuli. Think about raising a ladder. As you raise it overhead to walk it up to the structure, it is teetering from side to side. The ladder is the external stimuli and it’s continued movement is what makes it dynamic. To control it you are coordinating a plethora of muscles to move it as you move while keeping your body in safe alignment. Failure to call on these muscles leads to inefficiencies that add to accumulative injuries. We need to have dynamic stability. The Ultimate Sandbag is a critical component in developing dynamic stability as it is an implement that is in a constant stage of shifting. The two filler bags within the Ultimate Sandbag are intended to be filled half way allowing ever grain of sand to shift freely in a controlled unstable manner. Every single time you do a movement with the Ultimate Sandbag, it is entirely unique from movements before or after it. Because it is active as you are active, your body has to adjust and adapt accordingly in the same fashion as it would when raising a ladder.

By training with the Ultimate Sandbag and developing dynamic stability, you are strengthening a critical aspects of every firefighter, neuromuscular control. Neuromuscular control is the ability of your nervous system to speak with your movement system. Think of it like Incident Command and the attack company. Both are critical aspects of any emergency and need to work in tandem despite their locational distance. For this, they rely on efficient communication. Not having efficient communication on the fire scene can lead to disastrous results. In this analogy, your nervous system is incident command and your movement system or body is the attack company. Communication has to be relayed efficiently back and forth in order to successfully complete the overall goal. If it isn’t the result is injury. A challenge here is complacency in this communication. No matter the emergency we need to be keen, aware and mindful. You can’t lose diligence even when going to the same building a 100 times for a false alarm. In our movement, we can become complacent also. We get use to move things that are static and nonreactive that don’t challenge us or require adaptation. Consequently the communication between our nervous system and movement system gets dulled and those small support muscles stop firing as they are intended to. This leads to a higher risk of those strains and sprains when performing on the fire ground. What we need to do is continue to excite our motor learning, motor develop and motor control with resistance that requires adaptation. The Ultimate Sandbag provides that stimulus because it constantly requires adaptation. This increases that communication between your nervous system and movement system and strengthens support muscles to reduce risk of strains and sprains.

Low back pain is a chronic issue for many firefighters. Additionally, it is a major cause of injuries. This can be contributed to a number of different factors. Some of which are poor lifting mechanics, core weakness and hip immobility All of these are addressed with one movement using the Ultimate Sandbag, the DVRT Bear Hug Squat. The DVRT Bear Hug Squat, fits easily into any training routine by addressing these three concerns and more. To perform this movement, place the Ultimate Sandbag on the ground in-between your legs so that it is parallel with your feet. Standing with feet shoulder width apart and your knees soft, tuck your hips to level your pelvis. From here, drive your hips backward as you reach down to the ground with your arms extended. Wrap your hands around the Ultimate Sandbag and clasp your hands together keeping your back flat. It is common to feel a stretch in your hamstrings in this position. After acknowledging this stretch, explosively drive your hips forward hoisting the Ultimate Sandbag off the ground and pulling it tight into your chest. Be sure to really pull the Ultimate Sandbag into your body while keeping space between your shoulders and your ears. There should be significant tension between your shoulder blades, in your abdominals and also in your glutes. Drop your hips and bend your knees as you squat to the ground. Continuing to pull the Ultimate Sandbag into your body, drop to a parallel depth or lower before driving your heels into the ground and returning to standing. Perform several repetitions as is appropriate for your programming.

As stated before this single movement will address your low back pain by teaching lifting mechanics that encourage maintaining an upright torso position and reducing excessive forward leaning. The DVRT Bear Hug Squat will also improve your core strength by emphasizing gluteal activation and intraabdominal pressure. Both of these will create a benefcial stretch in your lower back when performed. This movement will also improve your hip mobility. The sand within this dynamic load continues to drop slowly to the lowest portion of the bag which encourages progressive depth with each repetition. This progressive depth opens your hips causing them to become more mobile with each squat. The benefit of mobile hips is that it provides relief to your lower back by training them to do as they are intended to. When our hips are not mobile, our lower back begins to perform in ways that it wasn’t intended.

Equipment is great but what really matters is how you use it. A halligan is only a halligan but in the hands of the right firefighter it has countless uses. The Ultimate Sandbag is no different. By itself it does nothing but the right knowledge, training and experience can provide you with transferrable skills, dynamic stability and protection of your lower back pain.

To see how to perform the DVRT Bear Hug Squat and more DVRT movements, click on the video button just below the photo slides when you read online at www.firefighternation.com.


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Showing 2 comments
  • Leonides Aguirre

    Hey Capt!
    Love the sandbag! I’m new to the fire service and I’m all about good training and fitness. Im sort of the unofficial PT coordinator at my station and I’m always looking for new methods. I love the product and want to get my hands on a bag I could show my Capt. and hopefully get several for the crew! Please if you could get back to me I’d love to hear from you.
    Much appreciated,
    Leonides Aguirre

    • Jordan Ponder
      Jordan Ponder

      Hey Leonides! Glad to hear the fire service has you in it! The Ultimate Sandbag and DVRT system are an incredible modality and methodology for training firefighter emergency preparedness! We will be connecting!

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