When It Comes to Health, Safety First

Training in the fire service can lead to a safer operation on the fireground. Hose lays, ladders and protective equipment are a part of our everyday routine; our habits become second nature to the success of our business.

Primary and recurrent training should include several aspects of being better prepared. One important topic that should be a part of that is health. The day is now when fire departments need to include aspects of health concerns, ranging from annual wellness exams to proper maintenance of protective equipment.

Safety first is a core lesson taught in all fire academies. However, in addition to the standard teachings of firefighting skills and emergency medical services, Prince George County (Md.) Fire/Emergency Medical Services Department (PGFD) has taken their lessons to a new level: they cleverly incorporate teaching their recruits the hidden health dangers firefighters face through written assignments.

On a weekly basis, PGFD recruits receive written assignments that focus on health issues, including researching the link between cancer and firefighting. Through this approach, they learn the importance of some preventative measures they can take to eliminate or reduce unnecessary exposures to carcinogens.

Many studies have concluded that men and women in the fire service have a far-higher risk of being diagnosed with cancer than the public they serve. According to a study conducted by the University of Cincinnati, firefighters have a significantly higher risk of developing testicular cancer, multiple myeloma, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and prostate cancer. In addition, they also have an increased risk of developing stomach, colon, brain and skin cancer.

Educating recruits early about the cancer link is a step in the right direction. However, it’s up to the individual firefighter to maintain a proactive approach to taking care of him- or herself. We should follow the example set by PGFD and the mission and vision of the FCSN.

Vicki Lee is the staff liaison to the Safety, Health and Survival Section.

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