Recently there has been much published on firefighter health and wellness and the continuing significant incidence of cardiovascular disease in the fire service. This isn’t surprising since America has recently been challenged with a general population that has increasingly become overweight and sedentary; the fire service is a cross section of society.
Firefighting is inherently a stressful profession, coupled with underlying obesity, hypertension, high lipids leading to metabolic syndrome and heightened risk for cardiovascular incidents on scene or in training.
Great opportunity exists for labor and management to assess the health and wellness status of a department's firefighting workforce and to tackle this issue of cardiovascular disease. An ideal starting point for labor and management is to implement a baseline assessment to identify where employees stand with regards to health, wellness and nutritional status.
Templates of successful cooperation are available from the IAFF/IAFC Joint Labor Management Wellness-Fitness Initiative. Most health-provider networks and risk managers have a vested interest in assessing the baseline of the workforce and implementing cost effective strategies aimed at improving health status.
It's important to have a regular and ongoing dialogue between labor and management about how to engage employees to improve their health status. Everyone needs to be on board if a wellness program is going to be successful.
In addition to assessment of employee health status there needs to be an assessment by both labor and management of those resources and tools the department has to help employees improve their wellness status.
Health-maintenance education is paramount. Most successful programs invest heavily in health and wellness education, in such areas as nutrition, fitness and behavioral wellness. Many educational resources are already developed and your healthcare provider is a great resource that can be utilized. The IAFC and IAFF both have strong toolboxes of resources available, and these resources have been well researched.
Your labor-management relationships will be undergirded by a great foundation when you jointly focus on improving firefighter health and safety.
, MS, CFO, CEM, MIFireE, is an assistant fire chief for Broward County (Fla.) Sheriff Fire Rescue. Hes also a director at large for the Safety, Health & Survival Section and a member of the IAFC On Scene editorial advisory board. Mary Beth Michos
, fire chief (ret.) for Prince William County (Va.) Fire & Rescue and senior advisor to the IAFC, contributed to this article.