The village of Hanover Park is hoping a new medical advising position will help ensure firefighters and paramedics are fit for duty while they work to save and protect the lives of others.
Saeed Khaja, an internal medicine physician and cardiologist at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, began serving with the Hanover Park Fire Department as a firefighter in May 2006. While in medical school, Khaja worked part-time as a firefighter with the department to help pay for school.
Now, he will continue serving the department as a volunteer liaison between firefighters and medical professionals, helping to determine when firefighters are fit for duty.
Khaja is expected to communicate between doctors and the fire department regarding health concerns, fitness for duty, disease prevention, physical fitness and nutrition.
“Knowing that we have healthy firefighters will likely save the village some money, too,” Hanover Park Village President Rod Craig said.
Hanover Park Fire Chief Craig Haigh says the position offers an “innovative approach” to ensuring health in the workplace.
“By having a staff physician that has the expertise necessary to evaluate, make recommendations and intercede on behalf of the employer and employee will not only prove helpful in enhancing firefighter health and safety but will likely save the village money,” Haigh said.
Injured firefighters often become frustrated dealing with physicians who don’t have any firefighting experience, Haigh said. Most physicians “have very limited knowledge of the actual job duties of firefighters, including the physiological impact of heat stress,” Haigh said.
Without a true understanding from the “industrial athlete perspective,” Haigh says, some firefighters are sent back to their jobs before they are fit for duty.
Haigh says there are three to five other fire departments across the country that have a position similar to Khaja’s.
Khaja will also work on medical research related to firefighter health and is expected to collaborate with national research bodies.