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Annual Medical Physicals: The Risk Is Real; So Is the Solution

Is your department ready to stand down? This year’s Safety Stand Down theme is "Be Aware – Get Checked."

For all the risks our firefighters face, it’s early detection through annual medical evaluations and physicals that will make the biggest impact in saving lives. The IAFC, NVFC, NFPA, IAFF and almost every other emergency-service association of significance has stated that a comprehensive, annual health evaluation is critical to firefighter safety.

So where are we at? Is ignorance still bliss? Or has what you don't know hurt you yet?

With scientific fact staring us all in the face, can you continue to say that accepting unnecessary risk is still just part of the job?

Getting an annual medical physical is about you and your health, wellness and wellbeing, but the impact of the physical goes further. Think of it as a wheel with spokes and a hub. The firefighter is the hub; those supporting the ability to function efficiently on an emergency scene are the spokes:

  • NFPA 1582
  • Chief officers
  • Healthcare providers
  • Labor groups or associations
  • Elected officials
  • The community
  • Fellow firefighters
  • Our loved ones

These are all interconnected, and any failure at the hub or spoke level increases risk to everyone.

As of 2016, an IAFC survey found that only 45% of volunteer firefighter respondents and up to 80% of career firefighter respondents receive annual firefighter physicals. The main thrust for many years has been identifying and preventing sudden cardiac arrest. But now a new herd of elephants have entered the tent: PTSD, depression, anxiety, sleep deprivation and occupational cancer.

If your organization hasn’t already implemented a program, you can’t push this off any longer. The conversation starts with a simple message: “Our primary goal is to protect your health. Protecting your health also safeguards your job, your fellow firefighters, the community that needs you and the family that counts on you.”

Regardless of how our departments choose to use results from the evaluations, we must provide our members with the facts.

If nothing else, it means our members need to consider the risk to themselves, their families and their fellow firefighters if they’re to consciously avoid a condition that could bring preventable harm to themselves or others.

Are there hurdles for many departments to clear before physicals can become a reality? Yes, but you’ll never get over a hurdle if you don't try to jump.

The group of fire service leaders tasked with putting this year's Safety Stand Down together have assembled a website with the latest information on how to make this important initiative a reality for your organization. You’ll also find resources developed by some of our industries preeminent experts on keeping firefighters healthy and fit for the job.

Join me, the IAFC Safety Health & Survival Section and our partners at the National Volunteer Fire Council Safety in participating in this year's Stand Down, happening June 17‑23. All departments and personnel are asked to take the week to focus their attention on safety and health education and training. A week is provided to ensure all duty shifts can participate.

Visit SafetyStandDown.org and use the materials on this site to implement Safety Stand Down in your department.


Safety Stand Down Week is June 17-23, focusing on firefighter medicals and physicals. Is your department ready?


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