Fitness Snapshot of a California Wildland Fire Hotshot Crew

By Rob Shaul, Founder

The Diamond Mountain Hotshots, located in Northern California, fight fires in Region 5 North Ops. Last May, near the end of their spring training camp and before the fire season kicked off, 18 members of the Diamond Mountain Shotshots took the MTI Wildland Fire Fitness Assessment.

The Crew’s average score was 37.1 – “Excellent” based on the MTI Wildland Fire Fitness Assessment scoring system.

 

Background

I developed the Wildland Fire Fitness Assessment in 2020 after learning there was no standardized wildland fire fitness assessment in broad use which adequately assessed the job-specific fitness demands of these unique quiet professionals.

We consider Wildland Firefighters “Tactical Athletes” who share many of the fitness demands as military infantry and land-based special forces:

  • High Relative Strength (strength per bodyweight)
  • High Multi-Modal Work Capacity with a sprint repeat under load emphasis
  • Endurance (uphill hiking under load, rucking)
  • Chassis Integrity (functional core strength and strength endurance)
  • Tactical Agility

While the mission-direct fitness demands of Wildland Firefighting include work capacity, rucking, high relative strength, rucking and hiking under load, few Truck Crews, Hotshot crews and Smokejumper teams train to reflect this.

Similar to line unit military, in our experience most wildland firefighter unit training revolves around push ups, sit ups and unloaded running.

The MTI Wildland Fire Fitness Assessment is a step away from that tradition and step toward assessing the true fitness demands of fighting wildfires.

A couple of notes on the MTI Wildland Fire Fitness Assessment

  • Equipment is minimal by design. There is no standardized fitness equipment at Wildland Firefighter bases.
  • Same loading for men and women.
  • Grip/”tactical chassis” focus. This assessment will really test your grip and tactical chassis strength. Tactical Chassis = legs, lungs and core.
  • No Joke. This assessment is difficult. So is fighting wildfires.
  • This assessment also tests stamina. By design, this assessment lasts 90+ minutes and is designed to test not only the individual fitness demands, but also the overall physical and mental stamina of the athletes, and hopefully reflects a long multi-hour shift on the fireline.

 

Required Equipment

  • 60# Sandbag
  • 16-18” Bench or box for step ups
  • Marker Cones and 25m of open, flat ground for the Work Capacity Assessment
  • 48” Ledge
  • Stopwatch
  • Backpack or Ruck with 45 Pounds of loading.

Assessment Details, Scoring

The MTI Wildland Fire Fitness Assessment consists of the following 5 events with a 5 minute rest between the first 4 events and 10 minute rest before event #5.

  1. Max Reps Strict Pull Ups
  2. Max Reps Hand Release Push Ups in 90 Seconds
  3. 60/10/60 Sandbag Keg Lift for Reps @ 60# bag, 48” Ledge (60 sec. one side, 10 second rest, 60 sec the other side)
  4. Modified MTI Tactical Athlete Work Capacity Assessment (completed with a 25# backpack instead of body armor)
  5. 1/300/1 Ruck Run, Step Up, Run (1 Mile Run with 25# backpack, 300x step ups with 25# backpack, 1 Mile run Unloaded)

Each event is assigned a maximum score of 10 points based on the reps and/or finish time (full details here) for a maximum score of 50 points. The individual event points are added together after the full assessment is completed. Below is the overall scoring chart.

Overall Fitness    Total Points
Poor                         0-20
Good                       21-35
Excellent                 36-50

Diamond Mountain Hotshots Assessment Scores and Discussion

Eighteen members of the Diamond Mountain Hotshot Crew took the MTI Wildland Fire Fitness assessment in May, 2021. Several members of the crew had taken the assessment previously. Below are their scores:

Overall, none of the crew members scored “poor” on the assessment, and 6 of 18, or 33% scored “Good.” All other members scored “excellent” on the assessment. I would expect, given a general population curve, that we would have seen one or two members score “poor” on the assessment, and the bulk of the members score “good.”

The high scores for this crew raises concerns that the assessment’s overall scoring system is faulty, and/or there may be an issue with one or more of the individual event scoring.

The maximum score for each individual event is 10 points, and the minimum score is zero. For a standard curve, I’d  expect the average score for each individual event to be in the 4-6 range.

On the high end, the average scores for three events stand out for the for the Diamond Mountain Hotshot Crew:

  • Max Rep Pull Ups (8.1 ave score)
  • Sandbag Keg Lift (9 ave score)
  • 1/300/1 Event (9.6 ave score)

On the low end, the work capacity event average score was just 3.5 points.

Given these scores, I suspect the scoring chart for the Max Rep Pull Ups is set too low – as 8 of the 18 hotshot crew members maxed out the score chart (20+ pull ups).

Nine of the crew members, or 50%, achieved the max score on the Sandbag Keg Lift event which tells me this event is too easy and need modified.

Finally, all but four of the crew members maxed out the 1/300/1 endurance event which means this event also needs adjustment to make it harder.

The work capacity event is difficult – but given how 8 of these crew members scored a zero on this event tells me the scoring chart needs adjusted down.

I want to thank the Diamond Mountain Hotshots for taking the assessment and providing their scores. As part of MTI’s “continuous improvement” ethic, I’ve made the following adjustments to improve this assessment:

  • Increased up the scoring for pull ups. Now athletes will need to complete 25+ to score a “10” on this event
  • Increase the weight of the sandbag used for the Sandbag Keg Lift event to 80#
  • Required athletes wear a 25# backpack for the entire 1/300/1 event, and adjusted the event scoring – so athletes now must complete this event in under 25 minutes to score a “10”
  • Adjusted the scoring on the work capacity event to make it easier to score a “10 and avoid a “0”.

 


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