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Analysis, Sports Medicine, Training
An unprecedented partnership: Burnaby Fire and Fortius expand firefighter support
November 29, 2019 | by Fortius Sport & Health

It’s Thursday afternoon and the Fortius coaches are writing a training session on the board. Today, it’s not for a Small Group Training or SportSTRONG group, but for FireFIT, a program designed for a group of tactical athletes who are familiar faces in the facility: Burnaby Fire.

After working the night shift, D-Shift is getting ready to be put through their paces together in the Fitness & Performance Centre. Among them is a Fortius regular who can be seen on the gym floor at least twice a week: Captain Dan Walton.

“For me, personally, it’s been outstanding just with the training and the fitness level…,” he said of his experience at Fortius. “The part that I think the guys that are in there – our group, on D-Shift – [like] is the fact that we all work out together and it’s fun.”

The training is an asset to him and his team thanks to a unique partnership with Fortius – one that has been in place for five years, and was renewed this past April.

In the gym, firefighters have access to annual Fitness & Performance Centre memberships and access to FireFIT group training. The program has seen roughly 1,500 fitness centre visits annually.

Through his years in the Fortius facility, Walton has also seen the benefits not only in the gym, but in the Sports Medicine Clinic in terms of injury rehabilitation for a ruptured bicep tendon last year. The care he received is a part of an integrated care, return-to-work option available to all Burnaby firefighters through the partnership.

“My whole experience was really positive, and it went really well…,” Walton said. “It was almost five months of rehab, but the whole process with Fortius – … the doctors with Tim [Doty, Fortius practitioner and Burnaby Fire partnership lead physician], in conjunction with physiotherapy, and then going into the back-to-work program, it was unreal actually.”

Walton is one of several Burnaby firefighters to be put through the program – all supported through their benefits program, at no individual cost to the first responders.

“You can’t compare to the professionalism of a place like this,” Walton said of the care he received at Fortius. “There’s definitely a benefit for it.”

In the Fortius Lab and Sports Medicine Clinic, the partnership includes pre-employment candidate testing and medicals, career firefighting annual medical assessments and fitness testing, as well as injury rehabilitation support.

Each year, Fortius sees 90% or more of the Burnaby Fire Department come through its doors for assessment. Of those, 80% will see a physician – with 45 specialist referrals annually for things like orthopaedics, cardiology and sports medicine.

“With our occupation, I think it’s great,” Walton said of the testing and assessments available through the Fortius Lab. “We all need to know what kind of level of fitness we are at just because of what we are tasked to do sometimes, which can be extremely hard on your body.”

The program is also unique because of the practitioners involved. Lead program physician Dr. Tim Doty — who conducts the medical assessments for the firefighters and contributes to their rehabilitation plans where needed  is a former firefighter himself. With his background, Doty understands not only the strain of the work, but also the culture of those coming through his door.

“Firefighting is dangerous work, and the risks include physical injury from fires, collapsed structures, and other physical hazards, as well as the long term health effects of exposure to a variety of cancer causing chemicals,” Doty said. “We now also understand the risk of emotional injury from years of job related stress.”

This year, the partnership has also grown to include access to local mental health professionals. Doty says the addition is an important step in the program’s evolution.

“Providing firefighters with an opportunity to talk about their mental health and have a regular emotional ‘check-in’ may allow for appropriate help or intervention.”

For Walton, it is an addition to a program that has remarkable benefits to him, D-Shift, and Burnaby firefighters overall.

“I just think you can’t put a price tag on this [partnership],” Walton said. “… To really take full benefit of it, with the working out in the facility and everything, it’s top notch.”

Tactical athletes are those whose jobs demand peak performance (i.e., firefighters, police officers, military, stunt performers, etc.). At Fortius, offer a comprehensive range of functional and performance assessment for individuals and groups, including both laboratory and field-based testing. These assessments are undertaken for a variety of purposes, including evaluating readiness for selection trials for recruits, and periodic evaluation for career professionals.  Learn more on our website.