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Past Year’s Events

As I reflect on the past years events, we see that firefighters across the nation have responded to many different and sometimes difficult to deal with issues. We have ramped up to treat the latest biological threats, or battled the routine calls that seem to be common for most organizations.  It’s sad that we are still finding the loss of life in the fire service to be something coming across our email or written documents almost weekly. There are many studies looking for reasons behind the line of duty deaths that are occurring in the fire service.  Some are pointing to things that are preventable such as heart disease or cancer which are both preventable and treatable provided we are obtaining physicals annually. Recently our college obtained a grant teamed up with the local fire departments to do fitness testing to give us a baseline physical assessment. Something like this may work for you as well. We have also placed emphasis on stretching and fitness related to the types of work we perform. With in-house evaluators we have evaluated the members of the department and given them baseline recommendations for their fitness.  We all found little weaknesses that we didn't even know about, ones we can improve for the future. 

Our organization has also placed an increased emphasis on the immediate cleanup at fire scenes for our firefighters, with wipe downs of critical areas such as face, neck and any other exposed skin and then immediate showering upon return to the station.  As well we remove gear from service after the event and clean it. This coupled with the exhaust fans in the stations will hopefully limit the exposure that our firefighters have taken for granted for so many years.

Heart disease and reducing cancer risk is something we should all be focusing on as we look at the potentials in the fire service.  But there is an ever increasing issue that we sometimes ignore, and that is our emotional well-being. Many times the bravado of the fire service is to act like the toll of seeing tragedy on a regular basis does not affect them. But make no mistake, it will affect you. You may not know when or why a particular call might affect you. But I can assure you one day it will. For me it was a call with two sisters that were struck while walking down the road. One was deceased at the scene and the other in critical condition. That event hit me harder than normal this time. No it was not the first time I had seen this type of event in over twenty years in the fire service, or the first time that I had to be the one to pull it together to tell the parents that their child was deceased, but it took its toll for many weeks on me.  Fortunately we have a good system in place for our staff with short term and long term counseling and our department took full advantage of it. It didn't make the situation go away, but it did ease the events impact on our lives, and allow us to continue to respond and help others.  

This year a concerted effort is being placed on the mental health of those in our line of work. Many peoples first reaction to this is ignore it and it will go away.  But the reality is this, it will not go away and will not be cured by not dealing with it proactively. What we don’t see in the line of duty statistics is the near miss events or ones that don’t hit the wire because it was not salacious enough for the news.  Events where our Brother and Sister firefighters have either attempted to take their lives and were unsuccessful or sadly events where they were successful. It is our responsibility to look out for one another. There is not a single one of us that will not sacrifice for our fellow workers if they are trapped in a burning building, and yet we may look the other way when an emotional crisis is upon them.  Perhaps we do not know what to do, what to say or how to offer the help. We pride ourselves on taking care of one another, providing for health and safety in large scale events. But oftentimes there is something much more dangerous and insidious creeping around the station or in our homes and it does not just affect us, it affects our families and others we live and work with. Please be aware of your fellow workers, watch for patterns out of the ordinary that might indicate a need for help, or just someone to confidentially talk to.  Please check with your agencies and make sure there is access to some kind of safety net for those times when you or your fellow firefighters need one.  Let’s do our best to make sure that everyone goes home. 

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Posted: Feb 24, 2015,
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