What firefighter injury data means to rehab

Taking a close look at firefighter injury numbers points to several ways rehab can reduce those injuries

The U.S. Fire Administration recently released its report summarizing firefighter injuries from 2010 to 2012. During this time period there were about 70,450 firefighter injuries. The report highlighted that the majority of these injuries occurred in structure fires.

Could rehab help to reduce these injuries?

The good news as that 58 percent of the reported injuries resulted in no work time being lost. However, that means 42 percent of the injured firefighters had to lose work — that is not an acceptable number.

If we delve into the numbers, it appears that exertion/strain was the cause of the 27 percent of all injuries. We can also account that residential firefighters had the highest injury occurrence of 62 percent.

Rehab's role
The first question I would ask is if the departments reporting firefighter injuries set up rehab at residential fires? We tend to consider rehab for the large events, but do we use it for the smaller incidents?

Of course, the correct answer is that rehab should be considered for any event. But it does not always have to take the form of a rehab sector being established. However, it does mean that some form of rehab needs to occur at every incident we respond to.

Rehab is not an incident but rather a process we do throughout the entire shift.

In addition to prevalence at residential fires and overexertion/strain, the other indicating factor is that 12 percent of these injuries occurred in the month of July between the hours of 1 and 4 p.m.

High season
It all makes sense.

We could reduce the number of injuries by 12 percent if we could eliminate personnel responding to incidents between 1 and 4 p.m. during the month of July. That is what a good risk manager would consider.

But since it is not possible to stop responding, we can at least consider the factors associated with this time of year.

July tends to be a hot month. It typically is the start of the hottest months of the year. Add to this, many individuals are still unaccustomed to the heat. And 1 to 4 p.m. falls within the hottest part of the day — the risk of sunburn is greatest between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., but temperatures can peak as late as 6 p.m. due to the time it takes the earth to absorb the sun's heat.

It makes sense that our personnel would have overexertion and strain injuries.

If we would make sure our personnel are well hydrated, we rotate crews, and we provide exceptional rehab for our personnel, could these numbers decrease?

I would bet they would, especially since exhaustion, dizziness and dehydration accounted for 15.2 percent of the injuries.

Old school
Another number to consider is that males ages of 40 and 44 suffered 95 percent of all injuries. I am not sure there is anything to these high numbers other than the culture of the fire service.

Rehab has only been really enforced and used in the past eight years. This group of firefighters were accustomed to the old days when you fought a fire and didn't stop until the incident stopped.

It is part of their fire service culture.

Will this trend change with new firefighters who take their health into better account and consider rehab part of the incident?

There is definitely a need for rehab. A deeper look at the number from the USFA study bares that out.

To reduce firefighter injuries, incident commanders need to ensure that rehab is incorporated into every part of firefighters' day and during incidents rehab needs to play a prominent role at the incident scene. 

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