By Sarah Chacko

Killeen Daily Herald

HARKER HEIGHTS Firefighters and paramedics, pillars of community safety, are now evaluating their own well-being.

The Harker Heights Fire Department has designed a new essential-function test that really attests to each persons performance ability.

Director of Emergency Services Leon Charpentier said that almost every department has an essential-function test to make sure that its personnel can do their duty.

Firefighter/paramedic Heidi Booker designed the departments new test around an actual fire scene.

Firefighters have to stretch hoses, spray water, climb three stories on a ladder, drag a dummy and perform several other tasks within a 25-minute time limit.

This is what firefighters do, Booker said.

Charpentier said the essential-function test brings two things to the department: safety and health.

Employees should be fit enough to handle the workload, he said. Charpentier also hopes to cut injuries by half or more.

A report from the U.S. Fire Administration on the nations firefighter fatalities in 2003 shows that stress or overexertion was listed as the primary factor in 51 of the 111 firefighter deaths in 2003.

Firefighting is extremely strenuous physical work and is likely one of the most physically demanding activities that the human body performs, the report stated. As it has been in every year for more than the past decade, the largest cause of firefighter deaths in 2003 was stress or overexertion.

The department also started a new wellness program in October. Although the function test is separate from the wellness program, Booker said the program should make the test easier for everyone as far as strength and endurance.

Charpentier said Texas is also looking to adopt more stringent fitness standards, on which the wellness program should give them a heads-up.

Captain Cindy Scott has been with the department for 12 years. She said the test was harder than it looked but was a good strength and cardiovascular training exercise.

Endurance is key, Scott said.

Scott said with a small crew, like the one at Harker Heights, each member has to do every one of the things required and more.

Firefighter/paramedic Mark Kenne said the test not only prepares firefighters for what to expect on a call but makes sure that they can do it.

Everything you see here with this test are things in a normal fire scenario, Kenne said. Its just part of the job.

Contact Sarah Chacko at

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