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Physical training stressed on, off duty for firefighters

NATCHEZ — Natchez firefighter Cole Rutherford has a training partner on his days off.

Rutherford’s 8-month-old daughter Selina does not run laps around the neighborhood or carry 50 pounds of fire gear on her back. She’s just along for the ride.

That’s just perfect for Rutherford, who realizes how important training is to those he knows and loves, like Selina, and also to the many countless lives he doesn’t know but hopes to save.

“People’s lives depend on us being in shape,” the 22-year-old firefighter said. “For that reason we have to continue to get in better shape.”

Like his fellow firefighters, Rutherford participates in a rigorous exercise schedule when he is at Fire Station No. 2 on John R. Junkin Drive. When he is on duty, Cole lifts weights, goes through regular fire drills and uses the station’s Stairmaster.

When he is off duty, Rutherford exercises with his partner each morning before the temperature rises. He puts his daughter in her stroller, puts on his fire coat and steel air tanks and runs laps around the neighborhood.

“She loves to ride with me,” Rutherford said. “It’s a neat way to spend some daddy-daughter time.”

And while time with his daughter is his number one priority, Rutherford knows the importance of training.

He graduated in the top of his class at the fire academy and continues to strive for perfection when it comes to his training exercise.

“The mistakes you make in training are the mistakes you make in a fire,” Rutherford said they were taught at the fire academy.

Many of the fire drills Rutherford practices echo the same strenuous training exercises that the state requires before being accepted to the state fire academy.

New recruits like Derrick Davis study and practice these drills before taking the candidate physical ability test in Jackson. Called the CPAT, recruits must wear a 75-pound vest while performing a series of firefighter tests, including pulling hoses, carrying a 185-pound dummy and maneuvering through a maze. All eight exercises must be performed under 10 and a half minutes.

It a rigorous test that helps the academy admit only the fittest recruits.

In recent years there has been a nationwide push to increase the fitness level among firefighters. Heart attacks are the leading killer of firefighters due to the physical and emotional stress that comes with job. According to a study by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, firefighters over the age of 40 have a 300-percent increased risk of a heart attack.

According to Natchez Lt. Darryl Smith, that is why more emphasis has been placed on physical fitness.

“Most guys (in the fire department) do Roth Hill four or five times — some with hoses or full turn out gear, some without,” Smith said. “Some walk around their station each day they are on duty.”

Like Rutherford, many other firefighters continue to exercise on their off days by lifting weights, running and walking.

“It’s all about preparation,” Battalion Chief David Williams said, “You have to be physically fit to fight.”

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