Back to Main Story: Survey: Many Firefighters Putting Love of Firefighting Above Health, Safety
Browse Additional Comments From Survey Respondents
As an overweight firefighter/paramedic I feel we really need to pay attention to what the docs are telling us. I refused to listen for too long and it got me to a spot where I was removed from firefighter for about 7 months. I lost over 100lbs, but I should have never gotten that bad. I could’ve seriously injured myself, or worse, my brothers and sisters. I am now back as an active On-Call and can pass all physical requirements, but am still overweight and working to get in better shape. If your doc tells you to work on your weight, don’t brush it off, WORK it off.
– Volunteer, Alaska
Members are a severe liability if they are not physically capable for the demanding work needed to be done on any Fire/Rescue or EMS scene. Firemen maintain a level of fitness to help them move easily, carry equipment, lift patients, and even conserve breathing air by being in better cardiovascular health. By not maintaining your fitness, firemen are a liability to themselves, and their department.
– Volunteer, Delaware
A firefighter’s health and physical fitness impacts not only themselves, but those that work around them or potentially victims. The day may come that my life might rely on my fellow firefighters, and I can only hope that their pride does not outweigh their physical (or mental) limitations and jeopardize their life in addition my own. Although not all tasks on the fire ground require peak fitness, I do feel that physicals should be required and minimum standards met.
– Volunteer, Michigan
Physical fitness is important, and should be maintained. However a man should not give up his dreams because of a doctor’s recommendations.
– Career, Texas
As a New South Wales Rural Fire Service volunteer in Australia, there are NO fitness/medical requirements to join – as that would likely deter some potential volunteers.
– Volunteer, Australia
Routine physical checkups are a great idea but in our area, we are volunteer (though we get paid for the calls we respond to, we do not have set schedules – therefore if you are free to go, you do) so to have the department pay for them really isn’t feasible. I don’t see any reason why we couldn’t require something similar to a “sports physical” every other year like the high schools do (paid for by members themselves – after all, we are “volunteer.”)
– Volunteer, Wisconsin
Firefighters should have unlimited sick leave and paid medical insurance. They are paid for what they are prepared to do every time they roll out the door. Their skills and abilities should be maintained and assessed every year or so and ongoing professional development is a must. Maintaining a firefighter’s operational capability is a joint responsibility from the department and the individual.
– Career, Australia
I got overheated due to wearing new turnout gear and breathing apparatus at a training exercise (3 times in a few hours) and was sent to dept doc and put on alternative duties (volunteer). The policy with the wearing of ba and new gear has changed to one cylinder only – doc says I need to lose 40 kg to become fully operational again – I’ve still got 30 odd to go.
– Volunteer, Australia
Heart attacks are the number one killer of firemen, a symbol of health and wellness in communities. Yet all of them smoke and all of them are obese (not just fat… OBESE). It’s sad people don’t take more pride in their work and dept. don’t take more pride in the lives of their firemen. But I believe this is also due to the lack of education and want to educate themselves. At least where I run education is laughed at and I believe this plays a huge role in physical health and wellness.
– Volunteer, New Jersey
You owe it to yourself, your crew and your family to stay in shape and be fit for duty.
– Career, Texas
My department gives us a mandatory physical every year but drops the ball on helping us stay healthy. If the doctor finds an issue we get put off on our own time and we have to use our money for treatment. I know several that have been put off on lung issues. Some of them do smoke and will not help themselves but several were in perfect health when they started their jobs. There needs to be more done on getting us back to work as soon as possible and to help with treatment. Alcoholism and over eating is rampant in the fire service. I am an alcoholic and overweight, trying to do something about both right now, day 7. One problem that I am encountering is the lack of peer support. If firefighters even catch a little wind of dieting or you have stopped drinking they will tempt you with a drink on your day off or make a fire house meal that they know you should not have on purpose to see if you will eat it. I say all this to make the point that physicals are good but help with what is causing illness before it is an issue would be a lot better.
– Career, Tennessee
I think it is important to stay healthy. The last question is a bit misleading in the fact you should stay fit and get regular checkups, therefore realizing early when something needs to be addressed and corrected (i.e. HTN, cholesterol, obesity, etc.). However, I would not risk my brothers’ lives by remaining active on the fireground when not capable. At that point, as hard as it would be to swallow, I would transition into more of a support role and pass along knowledge to the younger and more able.
– Career, Texas
My FD (Lethbridge Fire/EMS) has subscribed to the IAFF health and wellness program for the past 6 yrs. A worthwhile program, and (in my opinion) should be a standard within all professional depts. I was trained as a PFT at its inception, and the results 6 yrs later have not only been lifesaving for some coworkers, but also a worthwhile cost saving for the city.
– Career, Canada
I feel firefighters need to act and train their bodies and minds like professional athletes. I feel every department needs to step up and make physcial fitness a top priority. We should not be losing 50 plus brothers and sisters a year to issues that can be prevented. No excuse for it!! Check out the nutritional and physical fitness training I provide for the fire service. www.1stduefit.com
– Career, South Carolina
The only problem I see with having a base physical standard that you need to be at every year, is that you would lose a lot of firefighters really quick. And, the volunteer fire department sector is already struggling to get and keep firefighters. At the department I was at, we would have lost probably a 1/3 of our 45 firefighters immediately due to being overweight.
– Paid on Call, Wisconsin
If you have health issues it’s your duty to report them, it’s not only your life on the line.
– Career, Europe
Physicals…get them. I’ve seen several lives saved because of annual physicals.
– Volunteer, Massachusetts
These surveys are black & white. Whereas firefighting is many shades of grey. Yes a yearly physical should be standard, but all too many times it becomes punitive, which meets with hostility from firefighters. It is very hard for one considered brave & heroic to be told by someone behind a desk who never tasted the adrenalin of what we do that he is not “fit” to do his job. Firefighters are taught to assimilate data rapidly then make possibly life & death decisions. Why couldn’t we make this life & death decision as well? Remove the punitive part, allow for better health care and preventative Tx. Embrace a healthy lifestyle from the top down. Then see what changes for the better.
– Career, Ohio
Some volunteer depts have a hard time getting firefighters. Some of us are active and exercise regularly. Some of us are very overweight and I have worried about them having medical issues while on a call. But as a volunteer dept we need their help. Very rough place to be.
– Volunteer, Kansas
My answer on the doctor’s opinion is as such. A doctor has likely never put on an SCBA, or done any sort of physical stress test in relation to the fire service, therefore I feel that his medical opinion may be important, but not my personal deciding factor as to whether or not I continue fire fighting. The question I have to ask myself is ” In my current level of health, am I putting myself, my fellow firefighters, and/or the public at risk of injury if I cannot perform my job as required.” As soon as you begin to jeopardize your fellow firefighters or the public, that’s when you should consider your options very carefully. Simply put, and with all due respect, I don’t think doctors have experienced what firefighting really is outside the box office both physically and mentally.
– Volunteer, Canada
My fire company lost its President about 10 years ago to a heart attack and shortly thereafter, our neighboring fire company lost its Fire Chief to a heart attack and its Treasurer to heart disease. Health is a retention issue for volunteer fire companies.
– Volunteer, Delaware
Routine physicals should be provided by the departments no matter what. I am just a little too hardheaded to be told to stop being a firefighter. This is the only job I know and love.
– Career, Arkansas
Many cancer cases in my organization have been discovered in our annual physicals with very successful early treatment and recovery.
– Career, Arizona
After being beat up on this job for 25 years, what else am I going to do for a paycheck? You can’t just stop doing the job.
– Career, Washington State
I have been in departments that required annual physicals, and currently serve in a poor county that does not. The physicals are important and I personally saw a Firefighter who found his heart disease at one of those physicals, followed up with a cardiologist and had an occluded coronary artery. The doctor told him he was a ticking time bomb, and that the physical saved his life.
– Volunteer, North Carolina
As a career FF/EMT it would be very difficult to walk away from my job because of a health concern. Especially when, in my opinion, most of the health issues firefighters face are due to the job, ie, stress, ptsd, sprains, mental health, cancer from all the chemical and smoke exposure. For most of us it’s all we got, it’s all we know how to be….we are old, we are young we are broken and battered and we push on till retirement or death. I do think routine check-ups are important and we need to really work on getting department and individual buy in in order to get these programs to work. We need to get away from the “old ways” of firefighting, but most of all we need to stop penalizing our firefighters when they get hurt or sick.
– Career, Arizona
In 1983, at age 40 I suffered a heart attack during operations at a structure fire. I was given a clot buster within a few hours and two weeks later I had bypass surgery. My Cardiologist said I could go back to work when I could do 9 minutes on the standard treadmill test. Within 3 months I did 13 minutes. I went back to work 5 months after the incident and worked as a line firefighter for 9 years. I then retired and acted as a fire police in our combination department. 10 years later the chief left, I took the test and was hired as the Career Fire Chief. I worked in that capacity for 6 years and retired when I turned 65. I then spent 4 years in a volunteer department as fire police and doing public education. My last stress test 3 weeks ago showed no problems.
– Career, New York
It’s as simple as this…. You signed up to help when someone is in need. You need to be able to fulfill that need to the BEST of your ability and it starts with your own health/fitness. You may live in rural USA but you are just as important as the busy metropolis!
– Volunteer, Wisconsin
The issue with job related physicals is they share your health info with your employer, that violates hippa laws and they will use it to let you go. You are better off getting care from your own MD who wont share your protected health issues.
– Career, Florida
I believe it Dr. is important in your physical career but after being told that I wouldn’t be able to be a firefighter due to a respiratory infection I took matters into my own hands. I quit smoking and dipping, and I started running. Slow at first but now I am training for long distance running and stair climb races. Dr. still says I have the infection because it is viral but I am not affected by it anymore. Staying fit is the best prevention we have in our career. Regular check-ups and quality exercise programs are key to a long healthy career.
– Career, Texas
We all need to being seeing a doctor and making sure we are fit enough to be doing the physical job of a firefighter. We not only put the public in danger if we cannot fully perform our duties, but we put our fellow firefighters in danger. I had a knee injury off duty that made me back off active duty because I am worried that if I re-injure myself I could put someone else in danger, plus no firefighter wants to become a patient! We all need to stop and think “can my body safely do this?” If the answer is NO then STOP and figure out what you need to be doing. Since many will not or do not know they are a danger, the fire department needs to step in and have everyone checked out yearly.
We as a fire family, have to know our health status? For oneself, family, civilians that we respond for, and our fire service family. Too many brothers are going down for reasons that can be controlled. It’s gotta stop.
– Career, Oklahoma
A doctor does not understand how a fire fighter works. They only know what is in the books. Also who is going to pay for the loss of income if a doctor deems it necessary to say I can’t be a firefighter again. Yes, I understand there are health issues that can cause a firefighter to die…. but doesn’t firefighters already take their life by not coming back when they enter that burning structure fire? A person having difficulty to lose weight due to stress or other reasons, should not be told they can’t do the job, when they have found ways to do it. It might not be what it was when they were hired but everyone ages and follow older age causes ppl to get slower. Career Firefighter is also different from a POC firefighter or volunteer. Gotta remember that are small depts that need anyone in town to do the work not all depts can be paid dept.
– Paid on Call, Illinois
Although a physician is educated, I think that it is mostly up to the individual to make the determination of what is within their limits.
– Career, Ohio
The last question, I would get a second opinion. I believe it’s strongly important to have physicals. You need to be in good health not just for yourself but your brothers, community, and your family. If you think you can be unhealthy and function well as a firefighter you’re lying to yourself. You’re putting yourself in danger, your brothers in danger, and endangering your community.
– Career, Kentucky
Know the stress and duress we are likely to face, I feel it’s very important that our Fire Departments keep tabs on our health. That being said, I know that most of us are stubborn and hard headed. Even if told not to continue our hazardous job, it’s just in our blood to keep doing it. No one wants to admit weaknesses. At least having an annual exam can keep us aware of our own health and we can make adjustments as needed to correct those issues that can be corrected. Our department does not do regular screenings. There have been a few randoms, but nothing routine.
– Career, Louisiana
I think it is very important, a good physical and mental conditioning is critical to the performance by the fireman, my Corporation – Fire Brigade of the State of Paraiba – Brazil – South America, held twice a year physicals on its members.
This is so important, why we don’t have a mandatory yearly physical and fitness test is beyond me. It is something our department is considering. The union needs to be sure it is non punitive, I get that, but our health is so much more important. Having light duty options for those who are not in condition to fight fires is important also so firefighters can contribute while recovering or getting ready to re-take the physical portion. They go so hard on recruits to pass the tests and to do the hard work in drill school but as soon as they hit the floor it’s all up to them to keep themselves in shape. If it was mandatory, then knowing a fitness test and physical is coming up with help people work throughout the year to maintain a baseline of fitness.
– Career, Canada
Routine physicals in my department have uncovered serious health issues in firefighters who didn’t know they were even sick. This allows for earlier treatment and in some cases, positive prognosis.
– Career, North Carolina