Researchers seek firefighters to participate in alcohol use study

The study aims to understand how to raise awareness about the importance of moderating drinking among firefighters

By Janelle Foskett

Researchers from the Center for Fire, Rescue & EMS Health Research and the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation (PIRE) are looking for firefighters and their spouses or partners to participate in a study about firefighters and alcohol use.

With funding from a FEMA Research and Development grant, the researchers seek to review the spectrum of alcohol and the culture around it in the fire service as a first step to understanding how to raise awareness about the importance of moderating drinking to healthy levels. 

The researchers would like to interview participants about their alcohol intake and drinking habits, regardless of how much they consume.

“It is well documented in research that there are high rates of alcohol use in the fire service both compared to the general population and other occupational groups,” explained Dr. Sara Jahnke, director of the Center for Fire, Rescue & EMS Health Research.

There are a number of reasons the rates are likely so high, she said, some due to things like the role alcohol has played traditionally in the fire service, the camaraderie that is built around meeting up for a drink, and pragmatic reasons like shift work and having the same off days as the people on your crew.

“There is also evidence that behavioral health and alcohol use are intertwined, with higher rates of alcohol use leading to behavioral health concerns and vice versa,” Jahnke said. “There is clear evidence that alcohol is being used as a coping mechanism for some as a way to manage repeated exposure to trauma.”

Jahnke explained that while moderate alcohol use isn't necessarily a negative health behavior, there are health implications from binge drinking and regular heavy drinking, including increased risk of some cancers, sleep disruption and cardiovascular impacts. 

Further, the study is also designed, Jahnke said, to develop tools for those who believe they may have a problem with drinking and/or feel like they are dependent on alcohol to identify the issue and find ways to address it. However, “The goal of the study is not to start a crusade to stop alcohol use in the fire service, but to help create a shift in the way it is viewed and consumed so it doesn't contribute to negative health effects,” she added.

The IAFF, the IAFC Safety, Health and Survival Section, the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation (NFFF) and the National Volunteer Fire Council (NVFC) all support this project. 

If you have questions about participating in the project, email Jahnke.

And if you or your spouse/partner are interested in participating in the project, complete the study form here: Online Survey Software | Qualtrics Survey Solutions.

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