In an occupation like firefighting that comes with on-the-job dangers built in, it would be easy to assume that the No. 1 killer among men and women of that profession would be structure fires. In reality, losses from fires are No. 3 on the list of ways firefighters lose their lives each year. Car accidents are second on the list, and the No. 1 killer is cardiac arrests, usually as a result of heart disease.
The 555 Fitness charity began as a group that was dedicated to actively addressing the issue of cardiac-related deaths among the firefighting community by publishing free online workouts. Implementing better diet and exercise programs seemed like the obvious method of combating this issue. However, it took a lot of convincing to get fire departments around the country on board.
“Firefighting is an old profession that is based on tradition. Because of that, firefighters are set in their ways. When you start to tell firefighters that they need to stop eating junk food and start exercising more, let’s just say that not everyone was happy to hear that,” explains Rob “Pip” Piparo, of 555 Fitness and a lieutenant with the New Brunswick Fire Department in New Jersey.
Aside from the immediate issue of not wanting to be told how to take care of their physical fitness expectations or how they should eat, a lot of firehouses simply didn’t have the equipment to do the workouts that were being posted on the 555 Fitness site. Piparo says that the lack of proper equipment issue was, in a way, how he got involved with 555 Fitness.
“I started as a critic,” Piparo says, laughing. “I didn’t start 555. It was based out of Texas. But I kept complaining about the workouts they were posting. My point was that we didn’t have that kind of equipment here in New Jersey or the space to do them. So we worked on a way to fix that problem.”
Piparo took the reins and established 555 as a charity in which 100 percent of the profits (largely from apparel sales on their site: 555fitness.com) are used to provide fitness equipment to fire stations that are in need. They have teamed up with equipment company Again Faster to award recipients a “starter set” of equipment, which includes items like a Concept2 rower, kettlebells, a barbell, bumper plates, plyo boxes, AbMat and wall balls.
Piparo is pleased with the growth he’s seen. “Two years ago, we put together enough money to award one fire department with a grant for the equipment,” he says. “Last year, we gave out eight.”
Aside from the charitable grants and shipping out equipment, 555 Fitness posts Honor WODs. Honor WODs are similar to what you would see in CrossFit as Hero WODs except they are named after the 343 firefighters who were killed in their efforts to save people on 9/11.
All these initiatives have made an impact.
“We have 50,000 followers on our site and social media. It has been great in the CrossFit community, but our reach goes beyond that. There are MMA gyms and other non-CrossFit gyms that have firefighters involved, and they are doing our workouts, too. We are seeing more places requiring physical fitness tests and that they are actually doing stuff about people who don’t pass them,” Piparo says. “One department in South Carolina suspended three guys until they got in shape. The whole place rallied around them to help them train, and they grew their own fitness community from that.”
While it would be almost impossible to measure the exact reach and change 555 Fitness’s efforts have had on the firefighting community, Piparo knows that their work is helping and believes that 555 is going about it in the right way.
“It’s good to see us trying to make a difference. People are surprised when they find out that we aren’t a gym and that all our money goes to the grants and sending equipment to firehouses that need help to get their men and women in shape. Maybe someday cardiac-related deaths won’t even be on the list thanks, in part, to our efforts.”
It’s clear that the men of 555 Fitness are doing their best to put out that fire.
Stay on the Grind.