From the Editor
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Health and safety only get an official week in June, but this month typically becomes the de facto safety month in the fire service. Let’s make
this the month we usher in a yearly call to action on
what’s really ailing, injuring, and killing firefighters.
Stand-downs notwithstanding, we tend to focus on
the “easy” stuff like the inherent danger of structure
fires and the myriad ways to lose your life in one. This
is because of the comfort level we find while searching for the faults routinely discovered in the external
causes of firefighter injury and death. New policies,
procedures, equipment, and practices typically emerge
once we’re done with the after-action review process
and, unfortunately, after looking for the human error
factor in the complex system we call the fire department. What’s not easy to focus on is the problem right
in front of our faces: how we’re really managing the
principle causes of firefighter injury and death—and
not just at incident scenes. I’m talking about our
entire day at work, since the rest of what we do during
the day and how we treat our bodies are not mutually
exclusive to how we treat the fireground.
It’s time to look internally at the causes of firefighter
injury and death, as we’ve apparently made tremendous
strides with fireground safety and control measures.
As I write this, FirefighterNation Editor Bill Carey is
publishing a great post on the fact that we have not lost
a firefighter who was actively involved in fighting fire in
a structure fire for more than six months—an amazing
metric we should all be proud of, right? I don’t want to
jinx our great fortune, but I will take liberties with taking us out of our comfort zone of fireground fault and
related control measures to take a second and wipe our
face pieces off and see a clearer view of where we stand.
It’s common knowledge that firefighters are more
susceptible than the general population to cancer and
injury. We are still losing roughly the same numbers of
firefighters each year to the other “stuff”—our health
and wellness-related causal factors. It’s death from
cardiovascular and chemical exposure—heart attacks
and cancer. Although these are the major categories
we can group the lion’s share of our line-of-duty death
(LODD) numbers into, we’re finding their control
measures coming in fits and starts. Perhaps tackling
these complicated matters is difficult because of their
complexity in scope and practice. We’re not doctors,
orthopedists, industrial hygienists, or pathologists, but
guess what? We’re finally listening to them and invit-
ing them in to conduct research on what is injuring
and killing firefighters. Check out the “Cardiovascular
and Chemical Exposure Risks in Modern Firefight-
ing” study underway by Underwriters Laboratories,
the National Institute for Occupational Safety and
Health, the Illinois Fire Service Institute, and Skid-
more College. This should take us out of our comfort
zone and make us realize the true pathophysiological
and carcinogen risks to firefighters.
We’ve correlated the thermodynamics associated
with fire behavior and our conventional firefighting
operations, and now we’re able to make similar correlations with our occupational lifestyles and exposure.
Let’s take time to read this study’s interim report and
make a few more correlations this month in
FireRescue. We start with Jordan Ponder’s seminal statement
that we’re 14.5 percent more likely to get injured
than the general population. This is not because of
fireground misfortunes but rather sprains and strains.
How we move around the firehouse and fireground is
the contributing factor and, like operational problems,
this one can be solved by training.
As we begin to fix our movement, we also have to
begin to fix our reactions to stress, trauma, and the
hardships of our job. One thing we’d never thought
we’d encounter is the potential for eating disorders in
the firehouse. Dr. Nicola Davies discusses this very real
problem that emerges from trauma, and it’s another one
we can’t ignore. And we also can’t ignore doctor visits
and the elephant risk in the room: cancer. Billy Goldfeder brings us Chief Ron Kanterman’s incredible story
of his cancer diagnosis, treatment, and recovery and
the lesson we should all take away from his experience.
Finally, are you able to raise your hand if asked if you
know a firefighter who has committed suicide? Brandon
Dreiman will tell you that you’re not alone and why the
current state of firefighter suicide is getting worse—and
what we need to do about it.
If we take this month to wipe our face pieces and get a
clearer view and a handle on the other “stuff” that
makes up the lion’s share of LODDs, we’re going to start
reducing this yearly number—and the numbers we’re
losing in general. The answers are in front of us, are
available to us, and transcend just showering after every
fire; it takes a marked change in our lifestyles and getting
the help that we need. It also takes understanding that
we may have to stop blaming the fireground as much
and take a closer look at ourselves. We deserve it.
Wiping Face Pieces
Clearer views for clearer measures