Fit to Rescue ME

Screen Shot 2014-04-25 at 6.21.29 AMMy daughter’s friend lost her father unexpectedly while snow blowing the family’s driveway during the big February blizzard in 2013. He was a firefighter in Worcester, MA. Until this tragedy I never thought much about rescue workers – firefighters, police officers, and emergency medical technicians. That’s probably because I’ve been lucky enough to avoid a situation to which they must respond. His death made me stop to consider how he lived his life, risking it, to save complete strangers. It made me appreciate all the men and women who choose rescue work as their chosen profession.

I did some google searching to learn more about the lives and risks of rescue workers. I knew that work-related injury and death risks were much higher for rescue workers than those of us who have occupations that don’t put us in an environment any more potentially deadly than an office. Screen Shot 2014-04-25 at 6.21.10 AM

“This is one of the first police population-based studies to test the association between the stress of being a police officer and psychological and health outcomes,” says John Violanti, PhD, professor of social and preventive medicine in the UB School of Public Health and Health Professions, and principal investigator on the study, funded by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.
The research, which is in press this month in a special issue of the International Journal of Emergency Mental Health, reveals connections between the daily stressors of police work and obesity, suicide, sleeplessness and cancer, as well as general health disparities between police officers and the general population.
The study was prompted by the assumption that the danger, high demands and exposure to human misery and death that police officers experience on the job contribute to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and other chronic health outcomes.
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Firefighters also are exposed to higher than average risk to death on the job or early death due to exposure to chemicals and/or stress.

Although occupations such as timber cutter, fisher, seaman, and aircraft pilot have the highest fatality rates, they are found in relatively few parts of the United States. [...] Firefighters and law enforcement personnel, on the other hand, are found in every community in the United States. Although the dangers are quite different, both groups experience high fatality rates and risks.

This new awareness made me want to do something to give back to the men and women who give so much to all of us who live here in Maine. I realized I was in a perfect position to offer something meaningful as the general manager of Weight Watchers of Maine, Inc. an independent franchise of Weight Watchers International, Inc. The idea for Fit to Rescue Me came to me in the shower! Weight Watchers of Maine would offer its services, free of charge to all Maine police officers, firefighters, and emergency medical technicians.

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Qualified rescue personnel were invited to enroll in the Fit to Rescue Me program from May 19 to June 2, 2013. Once enrolled they were able to attend weekly Weight Watchers meetings in Maine at no charge. There was no end date for their membership. Enrollees in the program were able continue as members until reaching their personal weight goal. The only stipulation to membership was if they missed four consecutive weekly meeting attendances, their free membership would end and they would need to pay the normal meeting fees if they wanted to continue.

The response was overwhelming. We had rescue workers enrolling in meetings throughout the state. In some towns we even set up special On Site meetings made up entirely of mostly of qualified rescue workers. There are still many active participants in our meetings today and weight losses range from a few pounds to more than 60!

I am pleased to announce that Weight Watchers of Maine will offer this program again and our goal is to double or triple the number of enrollees! We added an extra week to the enrollment period to enable more rescue workers a chance to sign up.

The enrollment dates for 2014 are May 18 through June 7. Qualified rescue workers must sign up in person and provide proof they are active rescue workers. They can sign up in any Weight Watchers of Maine meeting or at our Weight Watchers centers in Auburn, Bangor, and South Portland.Screen Shot 2014-04-25 at 6.20.29 AM

Last year I received a call from a fire department in Florida who heard about the program in Maine. They were asking if we could do the same thing for them. I passed the request onto Weight Watchers International as Florida is out of our franchise region of operations in hoping it could become a national program (Fit to Rescue US!). So far, the program is confined to just the state of Maine.

Please note: This program is only for the personnel who actually arrive on the scene. We realize that dispatch workers are an integral part of the rescue team but we are limiting the program to people whose job performance is directly affected by their fitness.

Jackie Conn

About Jackie Conn

Jackie Conn is the general manager of Weight Watchers of Maine. She is married and has four grown daughters and four grandchildren. Her experience with her own weight management journey and raising girls has given her insight into the struggles families face with weight, healthy body image, food and physical activity. She has been a regular guest on Channel 5 WABI news for more than ten years and appears monthly as a guest on FOX network morning program Good Day Maine.