A Comparison of Fitness Characteristics Between Firefighters and Police Officers

Jeremy Gross


Firefighters and police officers are two types of first responders who perform physically demanding occupational tasks. Research has shown they are at greater risk of cardiovascular disease, including risk of sudden cardiac death during emergency response.

The purpose of this study was to measure and compare cardiovascular disease risk factors and fitness characteristics between the occupations. Eleven male police officers and thirteen male firefighters participated in two separate laboratory sessions. During the first visit, participants conducted a lipid and blood glucose check, DEXA body composition scan, and a Wingate anaerobic cycling test. An ActivPal3 device then monitored physical activity until the next visit seven days apart. The second visit consisted of a resting heart rate and blood pressure measures in a ten-minute seated position, followed by a treadmill VO2 max test. Heart rate variability (HRV) was further analyzed in a 5-minute segment from the resting period. Despite the unique occupational demands, first responders were not significantly different other than firefighters having a greater total body mass (p=.03, d=.16) and absolute peak (p=.005, d=1.26) and mean power (p=.01, d=1.16). Significant relationships were identified between total body fat percentage and bone mineral density. Police officers and firefighters represented unique roles but alike fitness characteristics, resulting in similar training recommendations to improve upon for a better cardiovascular health outlook. Testing results suggested a need for improvement in specific components such as cardiorespiratory fitness and body composition, which may be accomplished with specific exercise training.