‘Firefighter 5K’ will benefit more than truck

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Zach Grimes knows the importance of fitness.
“If I am not physically and mentally ready, then the other guys are at a higher risk. They have to pick up my slack. I want to be in the best shape that I can be so that doesn’t happen. In addition, I am safer when they are strong and ready,” said Grimes, a five-year veteran of the Salisbury Fire Department.
Grimes is leading the push to make sure Salisbury’s firefighters stay in tip-top shape. While there was already a solid program of physical-fitness testing and wellness information in place, firefighters need every advantage, according to Battalion Chief and Salisbury Fire Marshal Terry Smith.
“We now have classes on smoking cessation, nutrition counseling, stress management, and improving sleep quality. Our goal is to have the firemen live a healthy lifestyle,” Smith said. “Zach Grimes has taken this to heart and he is leading the way by inspiring others to work out daily.”
He’s already set a good example. Over the past year, Grimes has been on what he calls his “own personal fitness journey,”
“I’ve lost 70 pounds over that time, plus ran two 5Ks and an 11-mile obstacle run,” he said. “I realized we had the Fire Department 5K coming up and I wanted to do something special. After missing the race last year, my goal was to generate an awareness of just how stressful being a firefighter can be and why we need to focus on overall wellness.”
Grimes came up with an idea that is a first for Salisbury’s firefighters. He committed to running the 3.1 miles of the upcoming race in turnout gear, complete with his helmet and a tool such as an axe, or even a roll of hose. Heavy boots will be replaced by running shoes, but the rest of the gear is the same.
So far, Grimes has recruited eight fellow firefighters to join him. He expects more to join them.
“We won’t run the race fast. We will run as a group, only as fast as the slowest fireman,” he said. “Our goal is for the group to finish together. We hope to see lots of Salisbury’s citizens either in the race or along the course.”
The annual St. Patrick’s Day 5K Run/Walk, now in its fifth year, is organized by the firemen to further the restoration of a 1941 American LaFrance ladder truck. For the first time during that restoration, the truck will be on display at the race.
Smith is the race director for the event and said he appreciates Grimes for his efforts to bring publicity to the race. Smith is an avid runner himself but knows that all the firefighters need to constantly be aware of the need for fitness and stress management. 
“The firemen work 24 hours on duty, then have 48 hours off,” he said. “Imagine while you are sleeping, a call comes in and you head out into a dangerous situation with your heart racing. Going from a resting pulse rate to a stressful situation in a matter of just a few minutes can really take a toll on the body.”
After the 2008 Salisbury Millwork fire that claimed the lives of firefighters Victor Isler and Justin Monroe, Smith remembers reaching his highest weight ever, but he worked to get back on track,
“I let the stress take its toll, but exercising regularly made me feel much better and helped me sleep. I soon ran my first 5K,” he said.
However, old habits returned two years later. “I had gotten away from the good things, never made any time for myself, and ended up with some stress-related physical concerns,” Smith said.
Grimes said staying fit can help with stress.   
“Any workout can bring huge stress relief. Some of the stuff that we see is tough enough, but we also have the same concerns that everyone else does. Family issues, financial concerns, and more have to be put in its proper place. Exercise clears your mind,” he said.
Fellow firefighter C.J. Beheler credited Grimes with getting him in shape.
“He inspires me, but we know he is right,” Beheler said. “We need it.” 
Rookie firefighter Michael Hodgson said he’s taking the long view of staying in shape.
“I’m in this for life,” he said. “It is the only job for me and I want to be around a long time.”
Capt. Lewis Rogers led the firefighters in a workout that included pushups, running stadium steps, flipping huge commercial tires and finally a run on the track, all done in turnout gear. Rogers said every firefighter gets an hour to work out each day. Catawba College and Extreme Performance donate the use of their facilities.
“My goal is to inspire the younger guys and to get the more senior firemen back into a regular fitness program.  We now have the opportunity for groups of eight to 12 to get together to work out. We even arrange to do it on our days off. The camaraderie and competitiveness push each of us just a little harder,” Grimes said.
On Saturday, you can see Grimes and the others running the 5K course that starts at 9 a.m. in the parking lot at Harris Teeter, 850 Jake Alexander Blvd. W.
They will then move north on Brenner Avenue, take a right on Old Wilkesboro Road, a left at Partee Street, a right on Monroe Street,  another right on Fulton Street, and a right on Lincolnton Road as they return to the race headquarters at the JF Hurley YMCA next to Harris Teeter.
They hope to see a large turnout of participants and spectators because all proceeds will go towards the restoration of the ladder truck.
“We will have an empty fireman’s boot set up to take donations,” Smith said. “We are calling it our ‘Fill the Boot’ fund. We hope many will take the time to meet Zach Grimes and all the other firemen on hand, too.”

Registration is still available all week at www.sportoften.com. A race brochure and registration form can be printed from www.salisburyrowanrunners.org . Race day registration will be available at the Hurley Y on Saturday from 7:45 a.m. to 8:45 a.m. Smith can be reached at tsmit@salisburync.org .