White unveils program for employee wellness

By MIKE ANTHONY

Administrative Chief Fire Officer Tim White last week unveiled a proposed wellness program for Mehlville Fire Protection District employees.

The proposed wellness program is one facet of a three-part approach designed to improve the overall health of employees.

Besides the wellness program, White has proposed revamping the district’s fit-for-duty policy and is formulating a physical-fitness program for employees.

The administrative chief fire officer told board members Oct. 8 he has been working with representatives of PRO-Rehab on the fit-for-duty policy and with representatives of the National City Insurance Group on the wellness program.

Elaine Kilker of the National City Insurance Group told board members a wellness program offered by Interactive Health Solutions Inc. would best fit the district’s needs.

“… We’re very impressed with this wellness program,” she said. “We’ve actually got references from three other companies. They are also providing the wellness program or getting ready to implement the wellness program for the city of Chicago firefighters and the city of New York firefighters.”

As proposed, employees would be screened annually for “a whole spectrum of conditions,” Kilker said.

Among those conditions are ones that are controllable by the employee such as blood pressure, cholesterol, glucose, triglycerides and tobacco use.

“The reason why we really like this wellness program is it really starts out giving them a base plan and a baseline. And the baseline will — it gives them a very, very good report that they can actually take to their physician and it gives them a scoring. It scores them on each level of the health condition and goals them …,” she said. “… A lot of companies across the nation … are now starting to incent employees by how much they pay toward their health-care premiums. So there can be a lot of things that you can build in in the future.

“And we’re talking about controllable things … things that people can control a lot with diet and exercise. Obviously, smoking is something that is controllable. You would also as a district receive an evaluation — not broken out by employees’ names — but it would be broken out by telling you what type of conditions are in your plan. And working with your health-care provider, which I do during your renewal, is a very helpful thing to have to negotiate your health-care renewal,” Kilker said.

The wellness program would be offered at no cost to employees and no cost to the district, White told board members.

“… This is all included free of charge within our current health-insurance plan …,” he said. “… This would also cover for the employees that have their spouse on United-Healthcare’s plan. This would also be with them, too. So they would actually be able to participate. Now what you have … is the husband and wife working together at home and changing their lifestyle.

“This all has to with my three-point (plan) — fit for duty, physical fitness program, wellness program — which is all an attempt to meet the major concern and that is the firefighters’ health,” White said. “It is serious across the country. I said that previously in the last board meeting that that is my No. 1 concern as far as making sure that our firefighters make it to retirement. And that they make it there in a healthy state so that they can enjoy their retirement. So if we give them the tools to do this, then that would be great …”

Board Secretary Ed Ryan said he was impressed with the proposed wellness program.

“… I’m not an employee here, but this sounds great …,” he said.

White also updated Ryan and board Treasurer Bonnie Stegman — Chairman Aaron Hilmer was absent — about revisions to the fit-for-duty policy he is proposing and showed them a DVD of him taking the proposed test.

“… I went ahead and took the test myself. When I actually took the test, I took a harder version of what is being proposed …,” he said, noting he has been consulting extensively with PRORehab about the components of the test.

Timed components of the proposed fit-for-duty test for firefighters and fire-medics include:

• Climbing up and down a stairwell three times with 100 feet of 1.75-inch hose in full turnout gear and an air pack, and then walking 100 feet.

• Dragging 200 feet of 1.75-inch hose 75 feet, making a 90-degree turn, going another 25 feet, then stopping and pulling 50 feet of hose to you. Walking 100 feet.

• Carrying a hydraulic power unit 50 feet, setting it down at a designated spot, walking back to the starting point and then carrying the “jaws of life” 50 feet to the power unit. Walking 100 feet.

• Dragging a 175-pound dummy 30 feet to a designated point, turning 180 degrees and going back 30 feet to the start point. Walking 100 feet.

• Crawling 50 feet.

Untimed components of the proposed fit-for-duty test for firefighters and fire-medics include:

• Lifting a weighted box incrementally until 120 pounds have been lifted.

• Extending a 30-foot extension ladder and bringing it back down.

• Climbing a 100-foot aerial ladder and coming back down.

• Hoisting a 1.75-inch hose line 30 feet.

Paramedics will have to complete a fit-for-duty test that is “not as strenuous” as the one firefighters and fire-medics must complete, the administrative chief fire officer said.

“This information was given to PRORehab as far as the times. They have seen the courses … They’re happy with the program. They think it’s accurate and basically they’re just going to tie up a few loose ends …,” White said, adding he would like board members to consider approval of the final fit-for-duty policy and wellness program in the very near future.

The Board of Directors established a mandatory fit-for-duty policy in August 2006.

Under the policy, all 24-hour personnel with the rank of captain or below are required to have an annual fitness-for-duty evaluation.

Such evaluations are designed to determine whether an employee is:

• Fit to work without limitations.

• Fit to work with identified limitations.

• Not fit for duty.