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Editor's Note
by Rick Markley, editor-in-chief

When are you too old for firefighting?

This apparatus crash is a good excuse to take a hard look at age and the ability to fight fire

By Rick Markley, FR1 Editor-in-chief

It is common for us to argue a topic from the point of view that suits our best interest — or our perceived best interest. I do it all the time.

The age at which you should stop fighting fires is no different.

If you are a career firefighter, you likely argue that extending the mandatory retirement age puts both firefighters and the public at risk. A British firefighting union made the accompanying video as a challenge to their government's push for a higher retirement age.

The video is quite blunt in its claim that firefighters in their 60s are not as capable of those in their 50s.

If you are a volunteer firefighter, your argument is probably the opposite. Your argument is likely to be that you can still perform the job and that your department needs your experience — as it struggles to attract and keep new volunteers.

The volunteer fire service is rife with firefighters older than 60 proving this argument.

Two things are certain: Our bodies and minds decline with age, and the rate of that decline is driven by a mix of genetics and lifestyle choices.

It would be foolish to speculate whether  or not age played a role in the Thanksgiving weekend crash between a state trooper and a volunteer fire truck. The circumstances may have been such that it would have occurred regardless of who was driving either vehicle.

Yet the driver of the apparatus was 74 (I wish him a full and speedy recovery). And we'd be foolish not to look at the issue of age.

Hopefully, we will never get to the point where career firefighters are still on the job at 74. But it is something we can expect to see more and more in volunteer departments as our population lives longer and remains active later in life.

A sweeping policy setting age limits for all or some firefighting activities is not practical given the level of need and difference in how people age.

An approach of frequent evaluation might be one solution. Many states require older adults to renew their driver's licenses more frequently. And this may be a good model for firefighting activities, be they apparatus driving or interior attack.

The problem with this type of evaluation tool, especially if it is a department-originated policy, is that those who should be evaluated are likely those running the department — quite possibly the chief.

It will take a strong leader to argue for change that is in the best interest of the department and community, but perhaps not in his or her perceived best interest. 

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