By Author(s): Keith Padgett 
Published Friday, April 30, 2010
| From the May 2010  Issue of FireRescue 
Every day, someone calls us for help. They have an emergency, and they expect us to respond and we do. They expect us to be prepared and to provide the very best possible assistance in many different areas. The public attempts to provide us with the best tools and equipment to perform our jobs, again with the expectation of nothing but the best for their community.
With this in mind, is it too much for them to expect us to take care of ourselves, especially when we have even more to gain from that investment than they do? After all, working on our health and wellbeing allows us to provide for and spend time with our family. Sounds like a win-win for everyone!
Every year, more than 50 percent of the fire service line-of-duty deaths are related to health and wellness issues. When the cause of death for a large number of our members is listed as stress/overexertion or heart attack, there’s no doubt that this issue needs to be addressed.
Considering the severity of this issue, the theme for this year’s Fire/EMS Safety, Health and Survival Week is “Fit for Duty.” During this week, June 20–26, you should pay particular attention to the following topics that are critical to every firefighter and EMS provider.
General Health & Wellness: We all need support and encouragement to accomplish our health and wellness-related goals. Therefore, every organization should do its best to support its most important resource—its personnel. This support can be in the form of providing information on how to shop for or prepare healthy meals for the fire station or at home, or helping members obtain a yearly medical examination. Knowing that the organization cares for its personnel can be a great source of strength.
Food & Nutrition: Over the years, firehouse kitchens have become known for great food; however, our menus haven’t always been the healthiest. Fortunately, a number of organizations have outlined daily nutritional recommendations designed to help promote health and prevent disease. The National Volunteer Fire Council has an outstanding program called the Heart-Healthy Firefighter. Its Web site (www.healthy-firefighter.org/page/625/nutrition.htm ) has nutritional recommendations that firefighters and EMS providers can use to develop good nutritional habits. Keep in mind, healthy doesn’t have to mean that it’s not great-tasting food. It just takes a little change in the preparation to provide the same great meals for which firehouses are so well-known.
Fitness: Just like a good diet, physical activity should be a regular part of your day. Try to add some type of physical activity to your daily routine, and invite your crewmembers to join in. You should participate in 60 minutes of moderate physical activity each day. Plan station activities that give everyone a chance to exercise. Keep in mind that it doesn’t have to be 60 minutes all at once; it can be different activities that add up to 60 minutes. Walking outside, riding the stationary bike or using a treadmill can all provide this aerobic activity. Mix it up by trying many different activities to keep exercise motivating and fun.
Stress Management: Firefighters and EMS providers are under a lot of stress at work, and this can carry over to home very easily if not kept under control. Adding regular exercise, adequate sleep and leisure time to your schedule can help reduce stress. Additionally, take note of how others handle stress. If you think a co-worker is under more stress than they can handle, let them know that you care about them and their wellbeing and that they should not hide their stress if they need help dealing with an issue. We always talk about being a “brotherhood.” As such, we should offer to help others deal with the stress in their lives, whether at work or home.
Smoking & Smokeless Tobacco Cessation: The environment in which we work is dangerous enough that we should do everything we can to avoid deliberately introducing a cancer-causing agent, such as tobacco, into our bodies. Its use is associated with a number of cancers as well as chronic lung and cardiovascular diseases. If you or someone you know uses tobacco products, you should make every effort to break this addiction.
Alcohol & Other Drugs: Alcohol is the most commonly abused drug, and many people don’t believe they have a problem. Substance abuse can cause many medical problems and can destroy families and lives. There’s a history of substance abuse in the fire service, especially alcohol abuse. This is a sensitive issue, but it must be addressed. Alcohol and drug use may be an unconscious attempt at self-treatment for another problem, such as depression.
Infectious Diseases: Blood and other body fluids can spread disease, so it’s essential for firefighters and EMS providers to consider all patients’ blood and body secretions as infectious. The answer to managing pre-hospital personnel is to provide ongoing education and make information about personal protective equipment (PPE) available to everyone.
Suicide Prevention: Firefighters and EMS providers are exposed to a great deal of death and injury. Over time, such exposure can take a toll on both the mind and body. Depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and addictions are just a few issues that may result. Additionally, suicide is on the rise in the fire/EMS service, and we can no longer ignore it. Firehouses have not been known as somewhere to show weakness; however, members need to know that they can speak up and ask for help. Employee-assistance programs are available and should be taken advantage of if a need is identified.
The theme “Fit for Duty” is meant to assist you in creating healthful habits that can help reduce the risk of chronic diseases and, therefore, increase your chances of living a long life. Fire departments are encouraged to suspend all non-emergency activity during Safety Week and instead focus entirely on safety, health and wellness-related training and education until all shifts and personnel have taken part.
Mark your calendars and become “Fit for Duty!”
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