Common Diseases and Health Problems of Firefighters

This is an article that was written by a reader. He is passionate about firefighter health and safety and wanted to pass along some information.  We all know that we can always do better when it comes to our own health.  We do a good job of promoting safety to our citizens and community, but neglect the same message for our own safety.

Read the article and pass on the information.  Thanks to Taylor for submitting it.



Common Diseases and Health Problems of Firefighters

The dangers of firefighting are not always readily apparent.  Obviously, the most visible hazard is the fire itself and the severe damage it causes to the structure the firefighter must enter.  However, even without serious injury, firefighters have a high risk of long-term health problems as a result of their occupation.

Chronic Respiratory Problems & cardiovascular disease

Even if the smoke from a particular fire does not contain any toxic substances, it can still have a detrimental effect on the firefighter’s health.  Smoke and dust inhalation can exacerbate existing heart and lung problems, as well as cause new problems like bronchitis or lung inflammation.  While most fire stations are equipped with self-contained respirators, they are often impractical for lengthy jobs such as wildfires, when 30 minutes of oxygen may not be nearly enough to get the job done.  While treatments such as steroid inhalers can help mitigate the symptoms, more research needs to be done on the long-term effects of smoke and dust inhalation.

No one would argue that firefighting is not a high-stress occupation.  Even the most careful firefighter must deal with extreme stress on a regular basis, and that kind of strain takes a toll on the body.  Chronic stress wears down the body’s immune system, making it more prone to other diseases.  But perhaps the most dangerous aspect of stress is its effect on the heart – hypertension (high blood pressure) is very common among firefighters, and left unchecked, it can lead to stroke, heart attacks, and aneurysms.  Smoke, too, has a detrimental effect on the heart and blood vessels when it prevents the blood from properly delivering oxygen to all systems of the body.  The National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety lists cardiac death as the most common cause of fatality in firefighters.



Asbestos is widely known as a health hazard.  However, though it is no longer used in the manufacture of new construction materials, it is still commonly found in homes and other buildings constructed before the 1980s.  When intact, asbestos-containing materials pose little danger to the residents, but firefighters most often contend with these materials as they are being destroyed.  Tiny, needle-like asbestos fibers can be inhaled into the lungs, where they can cause serious health problems including symptoms of mesothelioma, an aggressive and extremely deadly cancer of the lining of the chest.  By the time these symptoms appear, the disease has often progressed past the point of treatment. This makes mesothelioma life expectancy extremely severe and short on average.

Other Cancers

Asbestos is not the only toxin released by burning buildings.  Firefighters also have unusually high rates of cancer such as Hodgkin’s lymphoma, multiple melanomas, and testicular and prostate cancer.  Unlike mesothelioma, there is not a known direct link between the particular toxic chemicals and these cancers (for example, we cannot say that chemical X causes cancer Y), but there is no doubt that firefighters come in regular contact with clouds of toxic smoke in the course of their jobs.

The chronic health effects of firefighting have received more press in recent years due to the heroics of the New York Fire Department during and after the collapse of the Twin Towers on 9/11.  Just recently, Congress passed the Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act to provide health care to those who responded after the terrorist attacks and are still experiencing illness.  Hopefully, both lawmakers and the public alike will continue to remember that the danger to firefighters does not disappear as soon as the fire is out.

Taylor Dardan is an EMS/First Responder Health and Safety Advocate.  He is very passionate about making sure that firefighters and other first responders are properly aware of various hidden dangers surrounding rescue work.

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Jason Hoevelmann

Deputy Chief/Fire Marshal with the Sullivan Fire Protection District, a combination department, and a career firefighter/paramedic with the Florissant Valley Fire Protection District in North St. Louis County.

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Tim Westlake
How Dare You!-We Can No Longer Tolerate Incompetence!
Steve. Thank you. I to am a Training Officer both in the NYS Department of Corrections as a FBTI and as a CFI/MTO and Lieutenant of a 60 member Volunteer Department. I to do not train enough. I agree with everything you said. My biggest problems are also not the few but the many. As…
2015-08-18 03:25:36
How Dare You!-We Can No Longer Tolerate Incompetence!
I totally agree with your comments regarding training and preparation I want to know the person standing next to my son / sons are capable of fighting a fire with knowledge dedication and standing shoulder to shoulder with a motto of " no man left behind " the only safety line you have to getting…
2015-07-04 02:13:54
How Dare You!-We Can No Longer Tolerate Incompetence!
2015-07-04 00:04:50
Ryan Huffman
How Dare You!-We Can No Longer Tolerate Incompetence!
I am a volunteer lieutenant in a rural department and I work full time on a medic unit. This article is very powerful and was a very good read. I love to train and train harder everyday that I'm at work or at the volly house and when I'm not there I'm constantly reading articles…
2015-07-03 13:19:23
Kevin Hurl
How Dare You!-We Can No Longer Tolerate Incompetence!
Too True, I am a big fan of the saying "you can never train to hard for a job that kill you" Well said and I'll copying the link to this to our brigade Facebook page.
2015-07-01 22:40:09

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