Fired up for fitness

First Posted: 1/15/2009

City firefighters get center to shape up

LUMBERTON -- In his tribute to the firefighters who died on 9/11, Bruce Springsteen acknowledges the physical demands that firefighters sometimes face.
Understanding that, the city has opened a fitness center at the Bill Sapp Recreation Center that is available for nearly 700 county firefighters. It opened on July 1, but on Monday it was dedicated to Thomas Brooks, a Lumberton fireman who died on Jan. 31, 2001.
Brooks, a fireman with 16 years of experience, died of a heart attack after a long day of responding to calls and training. Fire Chief Mike Cox said Brooks had complained of what he thought was indigestion during the evening and died sometime during the night. He was 48.
“Thomas Brooks is the only firefighter in the history of Lumberton to die in the line of duty,” Cox said. “Although the fire department had annual physicals for employees, it didn't have a program that guaranteed they got the appropriate amount of cardiovascular exercise. In an effort to prevent that in the future, we applied for the FEMA grant.”
The department received a $83,200 grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and the city provided a 10 percent match.
Brook's wife, Debra Brooks, his sons Thomas Darwin and Ethan Brooks, and his mother, Mary Elizabeth Brewer, attended the ceremony. They were given a copy of a proclamation read by Mayor Ray Pennington, which honored Brooks as having “conducted himself at all times with dignity, grace, optimism and integrity and gave unselfishly of his time and talents to the community.”
“I was surprised and honored that his co-workers thought so much of him,” Debra Brooks said.
Maxton volunteer firefighter Lt. Robert Deese was also at the ceremony. He said he planned to use the center.
Lumberton firefighters won't have that option. They are required to participate in the program. All other Lumberton employees use the gym if they wish.
The gym has a cardio room, with equipment such as treadmills, stationary bikes and stairclimbers, and a weight room, with weighlifting machines and freeweights. The center is open from 5:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day, but is closed to everyone but on-duty Lumberton firefighters from 8 a.m. to noon.
“The Wellness and Fitness program is strictly cardio at this point,” Cox said. “We want everyone to get an hour of cardio every day. We want them to have happy and healthy hearts.”
According to Cox, the work to transform the rooms at the Sapp center into a gym was largely done by city employees.
Lumberton firefighter Jeff Martin was one of several firefighters working up a healthy sweat Thursday. Fellow firefighter Danford Oxendine chugged right along next to Martin on one of the treadmills.
“I think it's great,” Martin said. “In the long run, we'll benefit a lot from it. I think we got all the right equipment.”
The city has also formed a Wellness and Fitness committee to educate city employees on “prudent heart living, proper exercise techniques and lifestyle,” according to Cox.
Vicki Wayne, Cox's administrative assistant, is on the committee.
“There was a survey done of employees, to determine what type of services they would like,” Wayne said. “The committee reviewed the surveys and came up with a program.”
Wayne said the committee is working on regulations for the center. Wayne said the committee might organize a wellness fair, or designate months of the year for different types of activities.

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