It’s not surprising that as more communities are stretching public-safety resources to the limit that responders are looking for ways to deal with the physical strain, particularly the lack of sleep and fatigue that is part of the job anyway. The IAFC is increasingly concerned about the growing volume of marketing of anti-sleep and energy products to firefighters and other responders, as well as the use of fire service images to promote these products to the public.
The IAFC has identified recent marketing trends in targeting firefighters, EMTs and other first responders for a growing list of products designed to ward off sleep, drowsiness and sluggishness. The association is urging members to consider use of these products carefully.
Consult a Doctor
Emergency responders have unique health needs and risks. Talk to your doctor about symptoms or problems you’ve been having regarding sleep patterns, drowsiness, difficulty with shift hours, lagging energy, etc. Work with your doctor to explore a full range of causes and options for treatment. As with any ailment, it’s critical to work with a health professional to determine the underlying cause of any problem.
Self-treating a continuing problem may only lead you to overlook a more serious medical problem, like a sleep disorder or other medical problem (fatigue—which is not the same as sleepiness, but often confused with it—is one of the most common symptoms of both minor and serious illnesses alike), or even create a more serious problem. According to a spokesperson for the National Sleep Foundation, coping with excessive sleepiness through caffeine and stimulates may end up causing secondary insomnia related to the caffeine.
Prescriptions—though they may be needed to treat a disorder—can lead to addiction or your inability to safely operate in the high-risk environment of a first responder.
When discussing prescriptions or the use of energy aids with your doctor, ask detailed questions about what is in the product and how much of it, dosages, physical side effects, psychological side effects, possible addiction and other issues that can have an impact on your health or ability to perform your job.
Consult the Policies
Sleep disorders and other serious problems requiring treatment should be reported immediately to your department supervisor for the safety of everyone involved. Department leaders should know how to address these issues and assist personnel in navigating any administrative processes.
Whether you’re diagnosed with a sleep disorder and prescribed medication, advised to take an over-the-counter product or choose to utilize a supplement, personnel should consult department—and even national—policies. Are you allowed to work while using this product? Do you risk losing your job or benefits if asked to take a drug test while using this product? If killed in the line of duty while using this product, will it make your family ineligible for local benefits or PSOB benefits?
Do Your Own Homework
Remember the old commercials, “I’m not a doctor but I play one on TV?” Remember that commercials and advertisements are designed to sell.
Before using any product, do your own research: read the fine print carefully, understand what’s in it and how it may affect you, know the side effects, go online and find independent articles and studies, talk to other responders, ask your medical provider a few more questions.
Use Common Sense
In 2007, the IAFC addressed in a study the very real and very dangerous problem of sleep deprivation. Some are now looking to use that study to enhance marketing of anti-sleep products and services to first responders.
The IAFC does not endorse any specific product—be it available in your grocery store or by prescription—to address these serious issues.
The IAFC does endorse common sense. If you’re having a problem staying awake, coping with shift work or duty hours, or finding that you need to rely on added energy supplements to get through the day, seek professional help to determine what course of action may be right for you, those you ride with and those you serve.
Ann Davison, CAE, is the IAFC strategic information manager.