As a fire chief, I make decisions that affect the lives of our department personnel and community on a daily basis. I believe that many of the decisions I make will save lives. I know that one decision I made during my tenure as chief saved the life of one department member.
In December 2009, I had been fire chief for one month. While I was visiting my family, my brother (a deputy sheriff) and I discussed physicals, and he told me about a company his agency was considering to do their physicals. He was involved in the decision-making process to consider changing providers and had received one of the new physicals.
He described the process to me; it included an ultrasound of the major organs, a treadmill stress test and the other tests included in NFPA 1582. He gave me a copy NFPA 1582, which he received during their evaluation process. As a new fire chief, I saw this as an opportunity to improve the health of our personnel.
Our department had provided an annual physical to every member since I came on the job in 1989. Our physicals had been conducted by various providers over the years. Our current provider was the occupational health section of our local hospital. Our physicals were not 1582-compliant.
I reviewed the information on NFPA 1582 and conducted a cost comparison of what we were getting versus what the new company could provide. Then I began on a mission to get the compliant physicals.
During our budget process, I showed our city council that the increased cost for our 1582-compliant physicals was a valued investment in our personnel. The city council also saw value in the new physicals and our department received the funding in our 2010/2011 budget.
The physicals were conducted in September 2010; 41 department members received the physicals. During the process, 70 abnormal findings were identified among our personnel. The number of abnormal findings was shocking—our agency had been getting annual physicals for years.
One of the findings turned out to be life-saving. During his ultrasound, one member was found to have nodules on his thyroid. He was advised to follow up with his personal physician; a follow-up visit was scheduled and the results from his physical were presented. His doctor was provided with a copy of the thyroid ultrasound, which resulted in further testing to determine if the nodules were cancerous.
In January, while I was attending a class at the National Fire Academy, I received an unexpected phone call. It was that same firefighter's wife calling to tell me I had saved her husband's life.
When I asked her what she meant, she told me her husband had gotten the news from his doctor that the nodules discovered during his 1582-compliant physical were cancer. It had been detected so early, it hadn't spread and would simply require the removal of the thyroids. The firefighter had his thyroids removed and made a quick recovery; he continues to serve the department today and hasn't experienced any complications.
The decision to invest in our members by providing the best possible physicals paid dividends that can never be calculated. My decision had saved the life of a member of our fire department. If you attend Fire-Rescue International this year, you have a chance at the same opportunity I had: to possibly save a life—your own life.
This year in Dallas, the IAFC's Safety, Health and Survival Section and Life Scan have partnered to provide a limited number of 10-minute health screenings that include some important tests: ultrasound imaging of the heart (echocardiogram) and aorta (detection of aneurysms); there will also be some fun and competitive fitness evaluations. Reserve a spot today; to sign up for your free health assessment, email SHS@iafc.org.
These tests could discover potentially life-threatening conditions you have no idea are affecting you. Please don't ignore this important and free opportunity to invest in yourself and your health. You'll be glad you did.