Reducing the Number of Firefighter Fatalities One Heart at A Time
I doubt that anyone would argue with the statement that firefighting is a dangerous occupation. The natural reaction of most is to flee from a burning building, but firefighters are not most people. Firefighters risk their lives on a day-to-day basis rushing to the scene of an emergency, fighting blazing fires, and entering burning buildings; it is hard to believe that the number one cause of line-of-duty deaths is cardiac events (FEMA, 2011). The fire service is constantly changing and evolving to reduce the number of preventable accidents. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) states, “Through research, study, training, improved operations, development of new technologies, the appropriate use of staffing, and other factors, it should be possible to significantly reduce the number of firefighters killed each year (2012).” Firefighters are no longer allowed to ride on the side or back of the fire truck as a measure of safety to protect them from being thrown from the vehicle. That seems like a common sense idea, but what has the fire service done to address the issue of cardiac arrest? In 2011, nearly sixty percent of firefighter fatalities were related to cardiac emergencies (FEMA, 2012). The fire service is always coming up with new ideas and standards to reduce the number of firefighters who perish from burns, smoke inhalation, building collapse, and many other hazards that firefighters face, but heart attacks are killing more personnel than all of those combined. This should be the fire service’s number one concern.
Although not all heart attacks are preventable, The American Heart Association, Red Cross, Surgeon General, and many other professionals agree that by controlling ones diet and exercising regularly, you can greatly reduce the risk of cardiac problems. Firefighters are subjected to a number of health risks that naturally increases their chances of having cardiac problems. Stress, smoke inhalation, and breathing compressed air already make a firefighter’s heart have to work harder than most, and if you throw poor physical fitness on top of that, you have a recipe for disaster. The IAFF has developed the Fire Service Joint Labor Management Wellness-Fitness Initiative in the attempt to increase the overall health of firefighters, but despite fluctuations, the trend in the proportion of firefighter fatalities from heart attacks has remained constant over the past 16 years (FEMA, 2012). The Wellness-Fitness Initiative is making a step in the right direction recommending that an hour to an hour and a half be set aside every shift for fitness (IAFF, 2012). The problem is that it is up to each individual department to decide if they would like to participate in the program. My proposal to the fire service is to create a much stricter standard of fitness in the fire service. The problem with it being on a volunteer basis is that the people that are concerned about their health or care about physical fitness enough to volunteer are not the firefighters that we need to be concerned with. I feel making the program not only mandatory but also standardized with punitive action for falling below standards could help to greatly reduce the number of firefighter fatalities across the nation, it could even create the largest drop in firefighter fatalities resulting for a single standard to this date.
The fire service is a paramilitary organization, meaning that we use ideas and standards set by military organization. I think it is time to borrow a few more ideas from them when it comes to physical fitness. The military requires a standard of physical fitness because a soldier's level of physical fitness has a direct impact on his or her combat readiness and ability to perform required tasks in a safe, productive, and timely manner. Firefighters have to be ready to perform their tasks in the same manner. Like firefighters, military personnel also deal...
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