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My friends at Tailboard Training published a new blog post recently. It’s called Ultrahazardous. Everyone in the fire service should read this short piece…everyone from the department chief to the newest rookie, to every person even considering the pursuit of a a volunteer or paid career in the fire service.  

I have been saying for a long time that until we address the health and wellness issues we face in the fire service on a national level, it’s not likely that we will see a dramatic reduction in Line of Duty Deaths (LODD). I am not suggesting that all of the important research in fireground operations and fire behavior & dynamics has been for naught. It is some of the most important work that has been done in our profession in quite a long time. We’re learning a lot from it, and we’re gaining valuable tools for our firefighting toolboxes.

That being said, most of our people are still dying from health related issues. It is an undeniable truth that everyone seems to acknowledge, but far fewer seem to act upon. As Ultrahazardous points out, we could abstain from any form of aggressive interior attack for an entire year...every fire department in the nation could mandate exterior attacks on structure fires, and we would still be faced with dozens of LODDs that are a result of health related issues. 

Now, I understand that the health and wellness topic in the fire service is a complicated one. Why? It’s not technical, it's adaptive. It’s an issue that presents many and varied obstacles and challenges depending upon the size, complexity, and makeup of your fire department. Moreover, it’s personal. Health and wellness, to most people, is something that is as sacred as our rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. At the end of the day though, none of the obstacles that you may face are valid excuses for not implementing the basic components of a health and wellness program. It can be done in any fire department. It can be done one step at a time in a positive, not punitive fashion, touted as a tangible benefit of being a part of your organization

I have been an advocate of firefighter health and wellness for quite some time now. I do not intend to stop the push to prioritize firefighter health and wellness until an impact is seen on a national level -- one that becomes embedded in our culture. I honestly do not care who ultimately takes credit for the sustainable reduction in health related LODDs that I know we can achieve together if we just start doing a better job of taking care of ourselves. I just want to see the numbers drop -- and drop dramatically.

                                                                                                           Photo Courtesy: Paul Combs

Here's your mission, should you choose to accept it:

If you are interested in working through the obstacles you are facing in your department and establishing health and wellness as a priority contact me. I will listen to you and help you with suggestions on how to overcome your obstacles. I do not want anything in return expect your pledge to become a vocal advocate of firefighter health and wellness. Email me at dkerrigan@eastwhiteland.org to get started, and let me try to help you if I can.

I will also dedicate my blogs to the sharing of your firefighter health and wellness success stories. All you have to do is send me your department’s information, how you addressed your challenges, and a description of what health and wellness components you have in place. Together we can create a repository of information for others to learn from – to see what might work for them and to build advocacy for our own health and wellness. We can do this, one person at a time; one department at a time. Some of the greatest changes this country and in our profession have seen started at the grass-roots level (I refer you to the actual birth of our great nation). If a group of men with common vision can come together to form a country where one did not exist, I certainly think the fire service, with that same common vision, can manage the same effort in the name of reducing health related LODDs.

Dan Kerrigan is a 28-year fire service veteran and an assistant fire marshal/deputy emergency management coordinator and department health and fitness coordinator for the East Whiteland Township Department of Codes and Life Safety in Chester County, Pennsylvania. Kerrigan is a graduate of the National Fire Academy’s Executive Fire Officer Program and holds a Master’s Degree in Executive Fire Service Leadership. He is a PA State Fire Academy Suppression Level Instructor as well as an adjunct professor at Anna Maria College and Immaculata University. Contact Kerrigan at dkerrigan@eastwhiteland.org or follow him on Twitter @dankerrigan2.

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