Limestone Professor, Students Helping Local Firefighters Get Healthy

Monday, April 16, 2018 - 3:00pm
MyFirefighter Plan

Firefighters in the City of Gaffney are healthier these days, all because of a research project that started in Canada.

So how did a health-related study in The Great White North make its way down to the Palmetto State and into a fire station in Gaffney?

Nearly three years ago, Dr. Felicia Cavallini, a Professor of Physical Education at Limestone College, served for 11 months at the University of Guelph as a Visiting Research Chair in the Human Health and Nutritional Sciences Department, and her primary focus was on physical activity and exercise.

After completing her Fulbright Scholar Student/Research Grant in Canada, Dr. Cavallini was confident that lack of exercise had more to do with modifying everyday physical behavior and less to do with finding the time to sweat it out in a gym. That led to Dr. Cavallini being part of a research team that had a manuscript published last year by the Journal of Physical Activity Research.

“In replicating the Fulbright Canada study which focused on adults’ beliefs, attitude, opinions, and perception of physical activity and exercise, one of our focus groups here in Cherokee County was the City of Gaffney firefighters,” Cavallini explained. “We learned about the high rates of cancer, heart disease, and stress on the job during our group-facilitated discussion. It became clear that this would be an appropriate and important project for our physical education intern students.”

During the current spring semester, Limestone students Siara Shelton, Greg Thomas, Kate Norman, and Tabria Cochran have teamed up to develop several meal cards for the firefighters, giving them an opportunity to choose the same kinds of foods they enjoy but prepared in a much healthier manner.

Moreover, meal cards are also being designed to provide healthy options for the firefighters when ordering takeout food.

“The student interns have diligently worked on these menus all semester,” Cavallini said. “However, their involvement doesn’t stop there. They are currently in the firehouse with the firefighters wearing the same activity trackers and observing their day-to-day responsibilities, routines, tasks, eating habits, physical activity patterns and emergency calls from the moment they hear the alarm at the station to their actual on-site duties.

“Besides the usual physical demands of the job, firefighters go through an enormous amount of stress as their body transitions into a readiness state at the sound of the alarm,” she continued. “Those repeated sudden responses in this profession takes a toll on the body.”

Last fall, Limestone student interns LeRoyia Campbell, Barbara Danhardt, and Willis Dobison worked with the firefighters and co-authored the “MyFirefighter Activity” plan that is now posted in the fire station. The illustrated poster provides the firefighters with daily activities they can do to engage all major muscle groups.

“Our goal is to examine their daily habits during their shift and implement behavioral physical activity and nutrition strategies that will improve their overall health,” Cavallini said.

Gaffney Fire Chief Jamie Caggiano said the program has been a tremendous asset to his department.

“This has really helped build a great relationship between the city firefighters and the College,” Caggiano said. “It started out as a workout plan and then also developed into a way of eating healthier. It has become a large project and I think it will grow even more in the future.

“We were looking for an avenue to improve the health of our staff,” Caggiano added. “Once Dr. Cavallini came to talk to me about it, I knew this was something that could be beneficial. Our firefighters’ bodies go from zero to 100 miles per hour in a split second when we get a call. So we need to take care of ourselves due to the cardio issues and other problems that can create. Some of our firefighters have gone gung-ho with this routine and they can really feel the difference.”

The fourth Vice President with the South Carolina State Firefighters Association, Caggiano said he is working to have Cavallini speak to the group later this year in hopes that the “MyFirefighter Activity” plan can go statewide.

The manuscript by Cavallini’s research team is entitled “Introducing MyHouse Activity and MyWork Activity: A Paradigm Shift Towards Lifestyle Physical Activity.” In February, Cavallini spoke at the American Association for Behavioral and Social Sciences annual conference in Las Vegas and in March was a guest speaker at the SHAPE America (Society of Health and Physical Educators) National Convention in Nashville. In late May, she is scheduled to appear at the American College of Sports Medicine Annual Meeting in Minneapolis.

(By Charles Wyatt, Limestone College Communications & Marketing)