Ryan Starling entered the blazing single-story building carrying 57 pounds of gear—including an air pack to help him breathe through the noxious fumes. Now he and his partner needed to shoulder 190 pounds more.

They were in a back room in the San Bernardino Valley building and found an unconscious man. No time to waste. Starling and his partner grabbed the man and started the 100-foot trek out of the burning building, a tag-team farmer’s carry with a purpose. Four years later, the experience is an example of something Starling, 37, knows well: When you’re in the business of saving lives, muscle matters. “It’s our duty to stay in shape all the way through our career,” he says. “At the end of the day, this is your responsibility, your job, your calling.”

Everyone at San Bernardino Fire Station 221, in southern California, seems to understand that. The station is leading a new wave at firehouses around the country, lifesaving units that crush five-alarm fires and afternoon WODs. More and more, when crews aren’t on a “run”( firefighter-speak for their calls), they’re running around the firehouse, sandbags on their shoulders, prepping their bodies for whatever fiery hell might come next.

The Firehouse Gym Experience

Station 221 itself is a hub of tactical strength and conditioning. Beyond the bay that houses its two fire engines and one tiller truck is a 25-by-25-foot functional-fitness area. It was a closet until it was redesigned last year. Now it contains bumper plates, kettlebells, Concept2 rowers, Assault AirBikes, and a Rogue-inspired rack complete with pullup bars of different heights. There’s another section that includes a Smith machine—Starling calls this the “globo-gym,” a CrossFit reference to chain gyms.

Starling, a career firefighter, helped bring fitness to Station 221—and to his other job as a SWAT medic—about six years ago. He’d been around gyms for much of his life, typically doing bodybuilder-style workouts. But in January 2013, on a whim, he wandered into

a CrossFit box. He was instantly hooked.“I had always done some kind of circuit training,” he says, “but now it had some reason behind it. Now you have a competition, and that’s what draws me in.”


Cody Pickens

Station 221, like many firehouses, was primed for a strong dose of fitness. On any given call, firefighters push, pull, twist, lift, throw, and hinge—all things you might do in a smart sweat sesh. As Starling built his own strength, emerging as a four-time Regionals participant and finishing seventh in his age category at the 2018 U. S.CrossFit Open, he realized his training aided him in his roles in the fire department and law enforcement.

Fitness is a growing trend among first responders, and firefighters regularly tailor their ro

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