There are a lot of dangers that go with being a firefighter. We do some pretty risky things at times, those are considered part of the job. When people think about firefighters getting hurt at work, they think about smoke inhalation, burns, and maybe falling from a ladder. Those are some pretty serious injuries but there are a lot more things that we deal with that can harm us that the general public never thinks about.
Firefighters are often injured in vehicle accidents, either while we are driving or when we are stopped on the highway handling a car fire or an accident. We often hear the screeching of brakes when drivers approach too fast and need to slam on the brakes to avoid hitting the cars that have already stopped. Secondary accidents happen frequently, and emergency response vehicles also get hit while working on the roadway.
Smoke contains a lot of hazardous chemicals. When we think of smoke inhalation, we think of the immediate affects like coughing and getting watery eyes. Those toxins in the smoke also show up years later when firefighters develop cancer. Maybe that face full of smoke from that basement fire didn’t get you right away but after 30 years of getting a little of these materials, we develop different types of cancer.
If you are one of those people that cover your ears when a fire engine goes by, you are doing a good job of protecting your hearing. Along with the sirens, we also use some pretty loud tools, and are exposed to a lot of mechanical noise. We now have some very sophisticated hearing protection. There have also been some improvements in limiting the noise from our equipment.
After spending a while in the fire service, we get used to going from a resting state to full speed. A lot of people think of sleeping while you work as an incredible benefit, but sleeping in the fire station is nothing like sleeping in your bed at home. We don’t sleep soundly and we are abruptly awakened several times a night. Years of this sleep pattern along with getting up at night contribute to the heart problems seen by a lot of firefighters.
Another common problem for first responders is back injuries. We lift a lot of heavy equipment and if we work on the ambulance, we pick up a lot of stretchers. You would be correct if you think that we don’t lift anything heavier than a construction worker, but the conditions we lift those things in are a lot different. A construction worker might loft heavy things all day long, moving them from one place to another. We might be forced to lift things in awkward positions and we don’t know what we are going to lift. We also don’t control the conditions where we operate those tools. Carrying a stretcher on a narrow twisting stairway can really wreck your back.
There is a lot we can do to avoid these injuries, but we need to be aware of the things that aren’t as obvious. We can avoid smoke with our SCBA. We can use the hearing protection that we are given. We can put some effort into keeping ourselves physically fit to fight of the effects the stress the jobs put us through. Give as much respect to the little things as they can get us just as much and the big hazards.
By John Morse
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