Ready for the next emergency

2:00 am

Being called out at 2 a.m. to save lives is normal for firefighters in Kosciusko County. But they needed a nudge to take care of themselves.

They enrolled in Be Heart Smart, a program offered by Jaclyn Franks, the county’s Health and Human Sciences Extension Educator. Heart disease is the leading cause of death among men and women in Indiana. Be Heart Smart aims to help adults ages 30 to 55 learn how they can make positive lifestyle changes that can reduce their risk. In Warsaw, 25 firefighters completed the program.

Firefighters work in frantic, uneven shifts of 24 hours on and 48 hours off. “You go from zero to 110 in split seconds — all that stress combined,” says Rob Barker, firefighter and battalion chief (second from left above). Jumping into action quickly requires firefighters to be in good mental and physical condition. The skills they learned in Be Heart Smart helped the firefighters make the connection between preserving their own personal health and their ability to continue assisting others in their community.

Barker found the education on heart-healthy nutrition, physical activity and stress management eye-opening. In a job where much day-to-day activity isn’t structured, firefighters can exert some control over these three factors.

Barker learned the effects of stress on heart health and overall well-being and techniques to reduce and manage that stress. “That was one of my big take-aways: balancing all that stress,” he says.

He has also taken steps to lower his cholesterol and his salt intake and to closely monitor his risk factors. “I can control it,” he says, “or I could be one of those guys on the other end of the cot.”


of Be Heart Smart participants said they would monitor controllable risk factors such as blood pressure and cholesterol after the program.