FSU’s Athletic Training Program Partners with Volunteer Firefighters

Nov 29, 2023 8:00 AM

Frostburg State University’s Department of Kinesology has collaborated with local volunteer firefighters on two projects that allow graduate students in the Athletic Training program to conduct original research while simultaneously providing beneficial services to the Frostburg community.

In 2022, Dr. Lauren Pacinelli, Coordinator of Clinical Education in the Graduate Athletic Training program, and Dr. Jackie Durst, associate professor of kinesiology, developed the Rural Firefighter Resiliency Project. “The purpose of this project was to investigate rural, volunteer firefighter mobility, strength and power and present a corrective intervention that would improve target areas of deficits,” said Pacinelli.

According to statistics, volunteer firefighters have a higher prevalence of musculoskeletal injury and cardiovascular complications compared to their career counterparts. Research shows that more than 60% of national fire rescue units are volunteers, which only emphasizes the importance of the work FSU’s graduate students are conducting.

The pilot program had twelve local, volunteer firefighters participate. Graduate students used the results from their assessments to build individualized exercise programs to correct mobility and performance deficits and improve overall function.

kinesiology group with firefighter
Dr. Jackie Durst, associate professor of kinesiology at FSU; MSAT student Taylor Patrick; Assistant Fire Chief/PIO Matt McMorran; Dr. Lauren Pacinelli, Coordinator of Clinical Education in the Graduate Athletic Training program; MSAT student Jordan Patrick; MSAT Student Riannon Shagena; MSAT Student Ashlyn Catanese

According to Pacinelli and Durst, the program was an overall success. Kinesiology students gained valuable and unique research experience; all twelve participants reported improvements in one or more of the assessed areas; and FSU’s Department of Kinesiology now has the foundation to move forward on more collaborations with the local volunteer firefighter network.  

During the 2023-2024 academic year, FSU’s kinesiology department launched a second project entitled “Influence of Gear on Firefighter Postural Stability and Strength.” Currently an active project, both volunteer and career firefighters from the rural Western Maryland region are encouraged to participate.

“Graduate students are completing three data collection sessions on volunteer participants to assess postural stability, anaerobic capacity/fitness and lower body strength,” said Pacinelli. “Participants are assessed with and without their thermal protective gear.”

The common goal of both initiatives is to evaluate and improve volunteer firefighter performance to decrease injury to them, which in turn helps to increase public safety. “The more physically prepared volunteer firefighters are, the safer they will be during an active rescue, which then improves the outcomes of the emergency incident that required rescuers,” said Pacinelli.

Durst and Pacinelli agree, “The entire initiative was founded by a single thought – how do we, as human performance and allied healthcare providers in this community not intervene and provide our services to such a crucial group of individuals that we know are at risk and are underserved as they volunteer their time, and unfortunately sometimes their lives?”

“Drs. Durst and Pacinelli are making extraordinary contributions with these research projects,” said Yum Nguyen, PhD, ATC, Chair and Professor in the Department of Kinesiology. “This endeavor provides unique learning experiences for our students, and more importantly, provides a valuable service to our first responders.” Nguyen continued, “The Department of Kinesiology is fortunate to have such great faculty that are engaging in high level, impactful work. We are grateful for the partnership and opportunity to support the fire fighters in our community.”

The 2022-2023 project was made possible through an FSU Foundation Opportunity Grant, and the current project has received funding through two internal grants as well. For more information on how to participate, contact Dr. Lauren Pacinelli at lepacinelli@frostburg.edu or 301-687-4497.