The Prince William County Department of Fire and Rescue and the Police Department are working with George Mason University students who are certified athletic trainers to help firefighters and police officers stave off injury.
George Mason University Professor Shane Caswell, PhD, said firefighters and police officers often sustain injuries that are comparable to the injuries athletes sustain on the field and in practice. "People who engage in public safety are really tactical athletes. The physical demands of their jobs often put them into positions that are not too dissimilar from injuries that you would see in an athletic environment. Rehabilitating them and helping to prevent the injuries these tactical athletes suffer is quite similar to working with sports athletes."
Caswell, the co-director of the Sports Medicine and Research Training Laboratory at the university, started the program after working with the Department of Fire and Rescue during several Kyle Wilson Walk for Fitness events. Wilson, a Prince William County firefighter, died in the line of duty in 2007. Wilson was one of Caswell's former students.
Caswell said that the idea for the program developed out of the relationships fostered through that effort. He said he thought the firefighters could benefit from training to prevent injuries and provide rehabilitation when injuries occur. "It just seemed like a no brainer to reach out to the county."
Prince William County Fire and Rescue Battalion Chief Frank Orefice said the program, which has been running for about a year, helps keep people on the job by preventing injury in the first place through exercise and training and returning them to work as soon as possible after an injury. "The goal is to reduce time off from work and make sure people are getting back on the fire apparatus without getting reinjured."
Orefice said the program, which costs the county $45,000 a year, benefits the county by keeping people on the job and keeping the training and rehabilitation in house. It saves in doctor and rehabilitation visits since the trainers, all nationally certified and state licensed, work out of the Prince William County Public Safety Academy.
"Losing someone for months and having to backfill that position, with overtime, plus all of the medical bills – it adds up," Orefice said. "I'd say for every dollar we're spending, we're getting seven dollars back on our investment."
Jodi McConnell, certified athletic trainer with George Mason University, is assigned to the program and spent the majority of her career as trainer working with college athletes. McConnell said she sees injuries in the fire department she used to see in the athletes she once trained and rehabilitated. She said she likes keeping firefighters and police healthy. "I'm able to use a lot of my skills, and I'm able to return people to the jobs they want to do. That's satisfying. They're a great group of people. They're very motivated, and they're obviously doing a tremendous job. Being able to get them back to something they love to do, and do well, is very satisfying."