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The importance of firefighter physicals

Gordon Graham here with Today’s Tip from Lexipol. Today’s Tip is for fire service personnel. Today I am here to talk to our firefighters and their chiefs.

Over the past 40 years, the percentage of firefighters who have died in the line of duty because of sudden cardiac death or strokes has not changed. It hovers around 50% year after year.

It is true that the overall number of deaths each year has continued to drop, but that is more about the falling number of structure fires than anything else. So, what’s the problem?

Research tells us that it is not firefighting that causes the death, but that firefighting triggers death because of untreated or undiagnosed risk factors. Age, gender, overall health, and lack of physical fitness are all risk factors. And, except age and gender, can be modified or treated.

Moreover, NIOSH fatality reports reflect the research findings. The details are eerily familiar. A firefighter suffers a medical emergency on a scene or after a call and dies shortly thereafter. The autopsy reveals undiagnosed or untreated cardio-vascular disease and similar conditions. Many times, the next paragraph reads that the department did not have any policies in place for medical evaluations or surveillance of the members.

So again, we ask the question. What is the problem. If you’re not sure, then the answer is that the responsibility lies with you.  Are you the fire chief who fails to implement regular medical evaluations of your firefighters? If the answer is yes, then maybe it’s time to give up the gold badge. Are you the firefighter who fails to make the lifestyle changes needed to address the risk factors? Maybe it’s time to consider moving on from the fire service.

If your department fails to provide annual medical evaluations, then it’s up to you to do your part. Go to the doctor, and hopefully you’ve got a doctor who understands what firefighters do. Get a full physical. Find out if you suffer from hypertension or diabetes or one of the other modifiable risk factors. Watch your diet, take a walk. Take responsibility. You and your family depend on it.

And that’s Today’s Tip from Lexipol. Gordon Graham signing off.

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