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.

FE Talk: Humpday Hangout

Bertie Shiver Johnson
Cleveland School Fire of 1923
I have read this story over and over. I do genealogy and think I have some relatives..doing more research. Thanks for putting this out there.
2015-09-29 21:40:23
Jim lang
How Dare You!-We Can No Longer Tolerate Incompetence!
Direct result of lowering the Standards also and giving everyone a chance! The Job is no longer a calling it's just a Job to many these days! No more Pride Tradition Brotherhood etc etc....
2015-09-20 18:21:25
How Dare You!-We Can No Longer Tolerate Incompetence!
Saya setuju dengan pendapat dan pengalaman anda. Pekerjan rutin seorang petugas pemadam kebakaran adalah berlatih dan terus berlatih. Dan apabila di antara teman petugas pemadam kebakaran disini yang mempunyai materi latihan boleh kah saya meminta materi latihan pemadam kebakaran itu ? Salam kenal dari saya Petugas pemadam kebakaran bandara kualanamu international Medan Sumatera Utara Indonesia.
2015-09-20 17:13:40
How Dare You!-We Can No Longer Tolerate Incompetence!
Two years ago I was being trained and tested on required performance. I was able to do all but a duties. I attended every training session, asked questions and researched matters related to fire fighting. I couldn't drag another fire fighter and I had trouble "throwing" a ladder from ground to roof. I was released…
2015-09-20 16:35:03
How Dare You!-We Can No Longer Tolerate Incompetence!
Excellent article, after 30 years on the job I agree. What has always bothered me was why do firefighters too often find themselves in trouble? Why are we on an ice covered roof when we could more easily and safely removed glass from the second story. Why open up a confined space of decades dried…
2015-09-20 14:10:34

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