As a firefighter, you know all too well how physically demanding the job can be. On top of the physical demands of the job, firefighting involves risk of exposure to many hazardous materials that involve risks to the respiratory system and cancer risks.
According to the International Association of Firefighters, cancer surpassed heart disease as the leading cause of death among firefighters. Between Jan. 1, 2002 and March 31, 2017, 61 percent of career firefighter line-of-duty deaths occurred as a result of cancer, while 18 percent of deaths were connected to heart disease.
In 2016, the National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety (NIOSH) released findings from a study of cancer among U.S. firefighters.
The 2013 Daniels NIOSH study (phase 1) is the largest study of U.S. firefighters to date, and is the largest study undertaken to date, as it included over 30,000 career firefighters who served in cities such as Chicago, Philadelphia, and San Francisco between 1950 and 2010.
The 2015 Daniels NIOSH study (phase 2) examined firefighters’ work histories and variables such as fire runs, use of personal protective equipment (PPE), and use of diesel exhaust control systems. The study compared the cancer risk for firefighters with higher exposures to carcinogens with those who had lower exposures. In this phase, researchers found that lung cancer and leukemia risk increased with exposure.
The studies are named after Epidemiologist and Health Physicist Robert D. Daniels, PhD, CHP.
Cancer also caused 70 percent of the line-of-duty deaths for career firefighters in 2016.
Firefighters have a 9 percent higher risk of being diagnosed with cancer and a 14 percent higher risk of dying from cancer than the general U.S. population, according to research by the CDC/National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety (NIOSH).
After all, cancer is the leading cause of death for firefighters, closely followed by cardiovascular complications. We put together a list of tips for how firefighters can stay healthy on and off the job; read on to learn more.
Always Wash Your PPE After Responding To Fires
Don’t make the mistake of convincing yourself that the house fire “wasn’t that smokey.” After responding to any fire, you should thoroughly wash your protective gear. The reason is that soot will stick or absorb to your gear. If you don’t clean the soot off, you’re going to be inhaling those harmful chemicals which can lead to serious health problems over longer periods of time. While you’re washing your gear, it’d be wise to periodically inspect your gear for any tears or major signs of wear. If you come across wear and tear that could prevent the gear from protecting you, it may be time to upgrade your firefighting PPE.
Make Regular Exercise a Priority
Despite how physical firefighting is, that shouldn’t take away from your regular exercise routine. Physical fitness programs for firefighters should be designed to help reduce cardiovascular risk, and to help reduce musculoskeletal injuries. Whether it’s your day off or you’re at the station, you should often find a way to get cardiovascular exercise in. On shift days you don’t want to go all out to the point that fatigue affects you Running, bicycling, or HIIT workouts are all excellent cardio options, but HIIT workouts are probably best done on days off. Strength workouts should also be less intense on shift days. You could consider bench presses, dumbbell presses, bicep curls, squats, but don’t go for personal record on shift days.
Practice Clean Eating
What you put into your body is equally as important as how you treat it. Strive for a balanced one including vegetables, proteins, and healthy fats. Avoid large meals that could be a hindrance if you are suddenly called to excessive exertion on an emergency call. Note that if you have pre-existing conditions, you should speak with your primary care physician before changing your diet.
Although many firefighters go into the career because they want to help people and serve their community, you can’t help others if you’re not taking care of yourself first. By learning how firefighters can stay healthy on and off the job, you’ll be well on your way to a long and successful career.
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