BACKGROUND: Physical fitness is essential for firefighters to reduce the risk of chronic disease, injuries and to perform duties effectively. An occupational factor that may affect physical fitness levels is rank. As firefighters advance in rank across their career (e.g., firefighter, to lieutenant, to captain) their job responsibilities and, consequently, physical demands change. To our knowledge literature examining the association between firefighter rank and physical fitness is scarce. Therefore, this study examined the association between rank, age, and the physical fitness of firefighters. METHODS: Physical fitness records from 1361 firefighters (male, 1225; female, 136; age: 37.4±10.1 yrs; height 173.0±13.1 cm; mass 90.8±14.8 kg; BMI 30.6±5.7 kg/m2) were analyzed. The fitness test battery included body composition, maximum pull-up repetitions, curl-up repetitions in 60 seconds, push-up repetitions in 60 seconds, and a 3-minute step test to estimate maximal aerobic capacity (VO2max). The relationship between the potential confounding factor of age with fitness measures were first assessed with Pearson correlations. Analysis of covariances (ANCOVAs) were conducted to assess the association of rank on fitness outcomes with age included as a covariate. RESULTS: The majority (n=973) of the participants were classified as firefighters, followed by lieutenants or captains (n=290), recruits (n=60), and chiefs (n=38). Age was negatively associated with pull-ups (r=-0.39, r2=0.15, p<0.001), curl-ups (r=-0.39, r2=0.15, p<0.001) and push-ups (r=-0.32, r2=0.10, p<0.001), but positively associated with estimated VO2max (r=0.17, r2=0.03, p<0.001) and body fat percentage (r=0.39, r2=0.15, p<0.001). The ANCOVAs indicated rank had a small but significant effect on pull-ups (F(3,1356)=3.053, p=0.028, η2=0.007) and curl-ups (F(3,1356)=2.863, p=0.034, η2=0.005). Post-hoc tests revealed recruits performed better on curl-ups than chiefs. Rank was not found to have a significant main effect on push-ups, VO2max, or body fat percentage. The covariate of age was significant in all ANCOVA tests. CONCLUSION: The findings indicate that rank does not substantially impact firefighter physical fitness. However, the findings do provide further evidence of age-related effects on physical fitness amongst firefighters, which may necessitate a more targeted approach to fitness programming and training for older firefighters.

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