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All emergency first responders face health risks that put stress on their heart, body and lungs, as well as mental health stress. By becoming educated about these risks, receiving regular medical screenings, and living a healthy lifestyle, firefighters and EMS personnel can reduce their incidence of illness.
First responders have a higher risk for certain physical and mental illnesses than most of the general population because of the nature of their job. Captain Kevin Klar of Los Angeles County Fire Department's "Fitness for Life" Program explains, "Firefighters have an extremely stressful job that goes from complete relaxation to complete involvement in whatever they are doing, so they have a lot of highs and lows in the job and also in their personal lives at home because of those of those highs and lows." These extreme fluctuations can cause many health issues.
Heart attacks are the number one cause of Line of Duty Deaths among first responders. The strain put on a firefighter's heart when going from rest to intense activity can cause damage and can lead to heart disease. To reduce the effects of this, firefighters are encouraged to have their cholesterol levels checked, to exercise regularly, and to maintain a healthy diet. A first responder's exercise regimen should both work their cardiovascular system and increase their strength, flexibility and muscular endurance to help them with their job functions.
First responders also typically experience a higher incidence for certain types of cancer. Captain Klar explains, "We have a high risk of having these issues in the fire service than you do elsewhere because of the chemicals and the heat and the toxins that we are exposed to." Smoke inhalation contributes to this. Dr. Robert A. Reiss of the Westchester Medical Group's Center for Heart and Health says that he treats many firefighters and often they tell him that they remove their breathing apparatus as soon as possible due to discomfort; however, he strongly urges them to keep the BA's on as much as possible to reduce their exposure to the carcinogenic materials present at the scene of a fire.
Similarly, firefighters are exposed to these materials through contact with their turnout gear. Kevin Klar says, "Some of the guys like to look all crusty and like they're dirty. What they are realizing now is that that dirty look, that crusty look is actually potentially hazardous because you are carrying around the toxins, and you are kind of living in proximity to those toxins for large portions of the day when you're in your turnouts." He strongly recommends that firefighters have their gear laundered regularly by professionals to limit their exposure to carcinogens.
There are many ways firefighters and EMS personnel can learn more about their risks and take preventative measures before they become sick. First and foremost, they are encouraged to have regular professional medical screenings, either through their fire department, if it is offered, or on their own. Dr. Reiss, who works with the Los Angeles County Fire Department's firefighters says, "We do a complete physical exam. We've picked up firefighters with prostate cancer, thyroid cancer, and a whole slew of other medical problems." Reiss and his team put the firefighters through a treadmill exam and a complete blood panel, and they check their hearing, vision, strength, flexibility and pulmonary function.
First responders are also encouraged to become educated about their risks through the online resources offered by the National Volunteer Fire Council, which has created a website www.healthy-firefighter.org that gives firefighters and EMS personnel tools to determine their risk factors. The website gives first responders information about health risks that they face and provides them with links to online tests that they can take in the privacy of their home to determine some of their personal risk factors.
FDNNTV.com's Coverage of National Firefighter Health Week
Join FDNNTV.com each day this week to learn more about some of the physical and mental health issues that firefighters face and what can be done to fight them.
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