Memorial Health Athletic Trainer Emily Gorenflo works on the shoulder of Marysville Police Sergeant Doug Ropp recently at the department. For more than a year, Gorenflo has been holding office hours at the department to help first responders work through injuries in order to reduce the number of days they miss work. (Journal-Tribune photo by Chad Williamson)
The duty belt has a tremendous impact on the overall health of police officers.
Weighing up to 30 pounds, the belt carries implements to help protect an officer’s life, but at the same time the bulk can be murder on a person’s back and hips.
Injuries related to duty belts were a big catalyst as the City of Marysville launched an initiative to secure the services of an athletic trainer for its first responders.
“You get aches and pains wearing 30-pounds of gear around your waist,” deputy police chief Tony Brooks said.
Brooks explained that fellow deputy chief Bo Spain had heard about a program at the Sidney Police Department in which a trainer was made available for officers and fire personnel. In early 2020 a group of individuals representing the police and fire departments, as well as the city’s human resources department, toured the Sidney operation and gathered information.
Memorial Health was then brought to the table to discuss a framework for such an operation in Marysville. Hospital officials also toured the Sidney operation and met with staff to discuss equipment needs and policies.
The program launched in February of 2020 and with trainer Emily Gorenflo being available at the police department three days each week for two hours at a time. Space was found in a former supply area at the department and the hospital absorbs the cost of the trainer.
“To be honest, I wasn’t sure what to expect,” Gorenflo said.
Use of the service started modestly, but once Gorenflo was able to build a rapport with officers it began to grow quickly.
“She’s been a wonderful asset for us,” Brooks said of the trainer.
Gorenflo said word of mouth among officers helped them realize that she was there to make their jobs easier.
“I’m here to help them complete a shift pain free,” Gorenflo said.
Use of the service increased to the point that Memorial opted to add opportunities for treatment. Gorenflo is now available Monday-Thursday from 1:30-3:30 p.m., to allow officers to stop in immediately before or after shifts. Officers and firefighters can also take advantage of Memorial’s physical therapy department at its City Gate facility, Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 7-9 a.m.
Services offered include musculoskeletal evaluation, exercise program recommendations, manual therapy, instrument assisted soft tissue mobilization, cupping, and treatments such as heat, cryotherapy, electrical stimulation and ultrasound. Gorenflo is also able to provide assessments and therapy, or can connect officers with physicians or other medical specialists if necessary.
The goal of the program is to help first responders with evaluation and treatment of injuries, allowing them to reduce days of missed work. According to Brooks the program is working, as the department has seen a reduction in workers compensation claims last year.
Brooks said officers visited Gorenflo with 72 specific injuries in the last year, 30 of those issues dealing with the lower or mid back. Other injuries involved mostly shoulder or neck issues.
But what may be more of a benefit than the actual hands-on treatment of injuries, is the ability of officers to simply pick Gorenflo’s brain.
She can help with assessments of day-to-day tasks, identifying what muscles are being taxed and why. She can then help with recommendations on stretching, muscle strengthening and other corrections, such as posture.
For example, Gorenflo said that officers sometimes have shoulder and neck pain because they can’t stand normally because their arms can’t hang directly at their sides because of the items on their belt, such as their firearm. This leads them to stand with their arms crossed, flared out wide, or dangling in front of their bodies.
“You think they are standing that way to be intimidating,” Gorenflo said, but in reality they simply can’t stand normally. She has tried to work with some officers on being conscious of how they stand in order to reduce stress on their upper bodies.
She is currently working with another officer to analyze the stress created by a gun belt versus a tactical vest which holds some of the same gear.
Even Brooks himself has used discussions with Gorenflo to adjust his working environment, employing a standing desk to help alleviate lower back issues.
Gorenflo said she can envision the program growing to add more hours, expanding the 10-15 first responders per week she generally works with. She said allowing her to have availability within one of the fire stations might also make it easier for more firefighters to take advantage of the service.