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.

 

Mesothelioma

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.

2 Comments

  • Pat says:

    My husband retired fireman coughs a lot if he is in cold or dust her way worse then the rest of us

  • Hey There. I found your blog using msn. This is an extremely
    well written article. I’ll make sure to bookmark it and return to read more of your
    useful info. Thanks for the post. I’ll definitely comeback.

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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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May 2011
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