On a blustery Wednesday morning, Paris firefighters gathered to perform a series of exercises designed to improve lower back mobility. Surrounded by eight elevated cameras and motion trackers, firefighters conducted simple stretches with the cameras giving them a mobility score based on the movements.
Part of a bleeding edge technology system, the cameras were brought to Paris to track the progress of a study conducted by fitness and motion experts at Texas A&M University-Commerce. While most motion capture systems require physical markings at every joint, the DARI Motion Capture System forgoes the markings and finds the joint center within 1 millimeter because of its advanced mathematical algorithms.
Normally, it costs $350 or more per person to use the DARI Motion system, but the voluntary service is offered to the firefighters for free by the research team at TAMUC. Researchers hope to use the DARI Motion system to track the results of a training and conditioning program designed to help the firefighters become more mobile in key areas of the lower back and spine.
“Over time, especially if you’re a career firefighter, I mean, life happens as well. You do things outside just being in the station, right? So, there’s a lot of different components that play into it. But specifically in the fire service, just from workload, just from years of service, from the different kinds of gear that they wear, takes a toll on your back, on your hips, on your knees. And so specifically for this study, we’re looking at the lumbar spine,” said Hussien Jabai, a head researcher on the project.
The program begins with a pre-testing session, during which the cameras record a series of simple stretches to establish a baseline for the rest of the training program. The firefighters will go through an established regimen of programs including stretches, weight lifting, running and more. They will perform the exercise regimen every three days for six weeks.
Firefighters appeared eager to participate in the program. In between ribbing or cheering each other on, they performed the preliminary exercises while laughing and joking about the intensity.
“Completely enthusiastic from the administration up front. There was no point of ‘Let me think about it,’” Jabai said about the firefighters’ willingness to participate. “It was like, ‘I will show this, we’re interested.’ Enthusiasm from the personnel side, from the firefighter side, I mean, right now they are having conversations with each other. Yesterday, we just had a huge crew just hyping each other up. You know, the enthusiasm from the firefighters is beyond what we could simply ask for, and it’s been really awesome, just connecting with them and chatting with them.”
Dr. Michael Oldham and Jabai are leading the program with the assistance of graduate research students Sierra Guggenbuehl and Omar Ramirez. Paris firefighters are the second fire team to participate in the study, preceded by the Melissa Fire Department.
Oldham thinks the group will be more than capable of finishing the program and spoke highly of their current fitness.
“The Paris Fire Department, based on our initial data, puts the fitness of their firefighters as a higher priority because they are very fit. They are strong, flexible, tactical athletes. So it’s a testament to the program that they already have instituted. They have pure, fitness personnel that are firefighters that are just here to help lead exercise. Their facilities that they have here are top notch. So their scores are very high scores,” Oldham said.
After the training period, TAMUC researchers will return to the Paris Fire Department with the DARI Motion Sensors and reassess the mobility rating of the firefighters. The researchers hypothesize the firefighters will see noticeable improvement in lower back mobility during the course of the six weeks.