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Firefighter Hydration - Lt. Michael Kilbane Cleveland Ohio FD ret.

16 June 2020
Firefighter Hydration - Lt. Michael Kilbane Cleveland Ohio FD ret.

Welcome to the Firefighter Fitness Blog

In this blog series I will be sharing with you vital information, specific to firefighters, as we traverse the many unique challenges and pitfalls of maintaining fitness for duty. Being an extremely dangerous and arduous vocation, with careers often spanning over decades, maintaining wellness will likely strain even our most fit brothers and sisters on the job.  

First and foremost I would like to address the concept of hydration.  To begin with, the human body is comprised of almost three quarters water, of which we lose an average of 35-90 ounces a day through sweat, breath, and body waste.  Athletes will lose on average between 8 and 16 ounces of water per hour while competing.  Firefighters, on the other hand, can lose a whopping 50-70 ounces of water (over 2 liters) in just the first 30-45 minutes of fighting a fire.

Losing that much water from your body in such a short period of time causes many things to happen physiologically, and none of them good as you might well imagine.  Changes include decreased blood plasma volume, increased blood viscosity, a decrease in sweating, and an increase in core temperature. Combined, this creates great stress upon the body.

All of that adds up to decreased performance on the fireground. Actually, studies suggest your time to complete exhaustion can be reduced by as much as 45%.  Not only is performance decreased, but your chances of injury at this time are greatly increased, as such rapid water loss from the body results in mental fog, which inevitably leads to decreased mental performance and situational awareness. 

All of that being said, you can take measures to ensure you are well hydrated before your shift.  Just as you would top off the gas in the saw, you should “top off” your body with water throughout the day. It is estimated that 64 ounces of water intake is sufficient for hydration during the course of a normal day, however, it may take as much as 96 ounces to rehydrate after a fire job. Thus, rehydrating should be a conscious and deliberate effort.

When the bell rings it is too late to hydrate, but there are some measures you can take before your shift begins. Be aware that caffeinated and alcoholic beverages consumed prior to your shift will increase your chances of becoming dehydrated.  You may consider drinking a large glass of water before your morning coffee. Staying lean also helps as muscle contains roughly 75% water while fat only contains 25%.  Always remember, maintaining fitness and hydration is vital for any firefighter wishing to be successful at their job. Be well and drink up.

bio photo

Lieutenant Michael "Sporty" Kilbane

Michael Kilbane is a retired officer from the Cleveland Fire Department having served for over 35 years.

In that time, he has spearheaded many efforts to advance the betterment of the division through wellness initiatives and grants. He has also authored a pamphlet on maintaining back strength and health for firefighters.  Mr. Kilbane’s education includes an undergraduate degree in both Philosophy and Natural Health, along with master’s level coursework in both Physiology and Philosophy.  He is also a member of the National Strength and Conditioning Association and is recognized through that organization as a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist. As a trained massotherapist, Mr. Kilbane has also witnessed literally first hand the damage done to first responders by over straining in some of the most hostile work environments. His most recent focus is utilizing kettle bells for functional training and is the author of The Athletes Ultimate Guide to Kettlebell Training.

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