Musculoskeletal injuries have long been recognized as “part of the job.” Training on proper lifting techniques is typically delivered during the hiring process. Firefighters are encouraged to stay fit and gym equipment is commonly seen in firehouses nationwide. While this is a nice benefit for the crew, it should be recognized that working out on a daily basis is critical for firefighter safety and prevention of injury. Physical fitness is known to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.
With regards to heart disease the only standards specific to the fire department are the rigorous testing and physical exams that are performed prior to and as a part of the hiring process. On-going training and physical fitness requirements vary from department to department and firehouse to firehouse: A lot of the training responsibility falls on the captain of that shift and there is often no minimum hours that must be met. There are annual physical exams that are conducted to assess health status, but these are not stringent and only make recommendations for areas of improvement.
For cancer, the focus should be on air monitoring and SCBA use during overhaul. Firefighters use air monitors to detect oxygen, carbon monoxide (CO), hydrogen cyanide (HCN) and hydrogen sulfide. These monitors require specialized training in hazardous materials in order to fully recognize and understand the potential for exposure. What is not commonly known is that any reading of HCN and/or CO has the potential of also having formaldehydes, aromatic hydrocarbons and other known carcinogens in the air/smoke which is an exposure risk. Studies have been done and recommendations have been made to reduce exposure, including exiting the building as soon as reasonably possible to allow for natural dissipation of the chemical “sot” and improved decontamination and personal hygiene practices (Weiss & Miller, 2011). Other recommendations by hazardous materials specialists are to allow 30-60 minutes after the fire has been extinguished to allow for ventilation and timely replacement of crews working in the structure to allow for rehabilitation and reduce exposure. (Godoy, 2014)