Looking at annual Line of Duty Death statistics, anyone can easily see that cardiac arrest is a Firefighters foe. In fact, heart attack is at least 50% of the reason why we lose so many brothers and sisters each year. We can all agree that improving our health, getting annual medical physicals and exercising are the right things to do. However, I have two questions. First how many of us are working out regularly and to the intensity of the fire ground, getting physicals and eating the way we should? Second, are you wearing the right personal protective equipment, wearing it properly and until determined safe to remove?
Your personal health, fitness and safety starts with you. Emergency Services is a physically demanding and intense field. In our down time, we should be doing everything within our power to prepare ourselves. Whether it is physical fitness or reading a textbook, our main task is preparation. Everyday has unknowns, when will the call come, what will it be for and could lives be on the line. Honestly, that is why most of us chose this profession. No matter if your career or volunteer, you still have the duty to perform how you are expected, you must be ready to respond. The actions you take start with how your body reacts to the moment. At this time, I could point out the obvious, heart attack. Let’s save that for another day and use our time to discuss our wellness.
Our bodies well being is the every day maintenance of our mental and physical soundness. Good nutrition, exercise, mobility and good sleep habits all play vital roles in our well-being. To ensure that we maintain a precise level, we must see a doctor on a regular basis. The trend of Firefighter Heart Attacks, sometimes over shadows why we need to ensure we have physicals each year or more. It is not just about our tickers, our whole body is priority. The human body is a very complex system and we must maintain it with rigor. If one part of our system is not functioning properly, other systems must compensate for it. When you have regular physicals, your doctor can trend these findings and make sure that it is corrected or at least ensure it does not get worse. Could some of the annual LODD reports be attributed to underlying issues that could have been found well before the heart attack occurred? Personal responsibility and accountability must be enhanced throughout the fire service to prevent line of duty death. We choose to be firefighters, so choose to continue to be one for a long time, by taking responsibility for your health and well-being.
What prompted me to write this today is the health struggle that I am having. Let us just say my plumbing system is on the fritz. My body is in no condition to be in all my gear, breathing air and pulling hose. If I responded today, I would be a liability to all on the fire ground. Having the COURAGE to say, “I am not fit to fight” is hard to do, when the Fire Service is your life. The statement had to be made, for myself, for friends, for the brotherhood and most importantly my family. Please have the courage to see your doctor, get that physical each year and if you are not fit to fight, HAVE THE COURAGE to speak up!
Now on to the second question I posed about PPE. Their really is not much to say about this one. They buy, we wear it. We must be accountable for ensuring the protective equipment, the department sometimes struggles to purchase for us, is worn as required. Wear your hoods, wear your gloves, wear eye protection and breathe your air. Over the past few years, several studies have looked at the effects of toxic gases in smoke and the damage it inflicts on our bodies. Evidence has even shown that certain toxins can be absorbed through our turn out gear. Simply ensuring your gear is washed can help reduce the chances of illness. You should also think about what get absorbed into your skin that you might take home. If you wear gear that was not washed after the last fire on your next medical run, are you exposing yourself and the patient? What about your family after the call or at the end of shift? Take a shower before going home or do not interact with family members until you shower and put your dirty clothes aside. Our PPE is not a protective force field it has limitations. Think about every line of duty death reported due to illness. How many more lose their lives from Cancer? Smoke and off gases are hazardous materials, treat them as such. Always decontaminate yourself, your equipment and your personal protective equipment. Save a life today by wearing your gear; breathing your air then get it all washed. Do not expose yourself and do not take that crap home to your families.
The bottom line, go see your doctor as soon as possible for a physical. Eat whole foods; fruits, vegetables, nuts/seeds and lean meats. Exercise daily; based on your performance requirements and under doctors advice. Get enough sleep. Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water before and after the call. Use the equipment provided for you. Know when you are not fit for the fight and speak up about it.
Disclaimer: The author is not a medical professional nor is a health and fitness authority, Consult a doctor before making any changes to your diet and fitness regimen, in fact that is the point the author is making.