“You can do everything right on this job and still get killed.”
~Captain Paddy Brown, FDNY
But would you ever stop learning, studying, training…being a student of our craft, because you can still get killed no matter what you do? I certainly hope not.
So if asked you: Is it ok to avoid maintaining your health and wellness because you may suffer a tragic health event anyway? What would you say?
Any answer other than a resounding “NO!” would defy logic. But here’s the thing—what are you actually doing about it?
I’ve said many times, there’s a big difference between agreement and action. And each year, we see the results of our general failure to take action on improving our own health and fitness for duty. On average, around 50% of annual United States Fire Administration (USFA) documented line-of-duty deaths fall into the Stress and Overexertion category, which is largely made up of sudden cardiac deaths. Add to this the very real possibility that many firefighters will be diagnosed with cancer. Statics now show that around 68% of firefighters (nearly 7 out of 10) will at some point be diagnosed with a form of cancer (sit in a room with nine other healthy firefighters, look around, and think about those odds). The Firefighter Behavioral Health Alliance also validated 132 emergency responder suicides in the U.S alone in 2016—data that is very conservative, because cases are believed to be vastly underreported.
Now, we can debate all day about the number one cause of firefighter deaths, but that doesn’t accomplish anything. There are two things we do know: It’s typically not the fireground, and those numbers above are ALL too high.
We all know the dangers involved with firefighting—there are some risks we just can’t control. But there are many risk factors that we can control, and it’s up to us to do just that. Whether it is cancer awareness and prevention, annual medical evaluations, physical fitness, nutrition, hydration, or behavioral health, more so than ever before, the resources are out there for you.
As firefighters, we must take action on a personal level. As company officers, we must ask ourselves the question: “What will I do today to improve the health and fitness of my crew?” As fire chiefs, we must make the health and fitness of our personnel the number one priority off the fireground as well as on it.
Firefighter Steve Mast once said, “…when we hit the fireground, your risk factors become my risk factors.” At the end of the day, whether you’re the rookie, the fire chief, or anywhere in between, it’s your responsibility. None of us is perfect, but mediocrity is kryptonite to firefighters.
When it comes to personal accountability, if you choose not to do something, you are still making a decision—and you are demonstrating that example to others around you, every day.
You would never avoid training simply because you could still die doing this job. Now is the time to have that same passion about your own health and wellness.
Dan Kerrigan, EFO, CFO is co-author of Firefighter Functional Fitness and Deputy Fire Marshal, East Whiteland Fire Department (PA). A 30-year fire service veteran, he is a certified peer fitness trainer and passionate advocate for firefighter health and fitness. He regularly researches, presents and is published on firefighter fitness, health & wellness.
Dan serves as an at-large director on the IAFC Safety, Health and Suvival Section board of directors and is the Director of The First Twenty’s Firefighter Functional Training Advisory Panel. He works closely with the IAFC, NFFF, and NVFC on strategies to improve fitness and reduce health-related LODDs in the fire service. He is a frequent contributor to Fire Engineering Magazine and Firefighter Toolbox.
Connect with Dan on Twitter (@dankerrigan911 & @FirefighterFFit), on LinkedIn, Facebook (@FirefighterFFit), and at FirefighterFunctionalFitness.com.