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Pack Test Day!

This post is about my involvement in volunteer firefighting.

The retirement section of my page here at TheMaven includes a lot of articles related to lifestyle with the relevance being that hobbies and volunteer endeavors can be cultivated into post-retirement incomes. My volunteer endeavor (one of my hobbies) is being a volunteer firefighter with the department in my community. It is an all volunteer department, I have been a firefighter since 2003 and the chief for a little over six years. Similar to blogging, this has been a the more you put in the more you get out of it situation for me. I've gotten to meet a lot of interesting people I would have never otherwise met and do a lot of interesting things I would have never otherwise done. This is my general pitch for engaging in activities that might not necessarily pay anything (although they might). Just as firefighting has created opportunity to meet people and do things, even more so with blogging.

Our department devotes a lot of time to wildland firefighting; we are in Arizona, at elevation with a lot of pine trees and dry brush. The annual physical requirement to fight a wildfire, on the line with a hand tool, is the arduous pack test (there's also the moderate duty and light duty pack tests) which requires hiking three miles wearing a 45 lb pack in no more than 45 minutes (we actually get an extra 45 seconds if needed for being above 5000 feet).

In prepping for the test I talk with the group about what the test is about which is the hike to the fire with the 45 lbs representing your fire pack and one hosepack. After the hike you need to plan on fighting fire for quite a few hours. If someone passes the test then they are said to be red carded for the season (there's a little classroom work too) but if they pass and are then so sore they can't move for a week, how much fun are they going to have on a fire for eight hours?

To me, this is motivation to exercise vigorously year round, not just for a month or so before the pack test. I try to not cross the line with the group from encouragement into guilt tripping about workouts. I want to be able to have fun when we have to fight a fire and that would be much harder to do if I am gassed before we even start fighting the actual fire. Fortunately, just shy of 52 I can still pass the test pretty easily. That ends for everybody at some point, I have seen people no longer able to do it at 30 and for those who remember my neighbor with a backhoe, he fought his last fire as a red carded firefighter when he was 76.

I've written a lot of posts about the physical and financial benefits of vigorous exercise which is something everyone understands of course but the firefighting is a great excuse to try to stay fit. There are plenty of volunteer endeavors and hobbies that require some level of fitness in order to continue on doing those activities. Where this is good motivation for fitness for firefighting it is good motivation for fitness for whatever interests you. The financial benefit is clear as well. Fidelity published a study about how much couples retiring at 65 should plan on spending for various healthcare needs, that number keeps going up of course, the last I saw it was around $277,000. Maintaining a high fitness level could help push back when that $277,000 clock starts ticking which has obvious retirement implications given that statistically, very few people have $277,000.

Just to be clear, the picture is not from my department, the picture is from a trip to New Mexico last September.