There are over one million brave firefighters in the US right now, with around two-thirds of that total being volunteer firefighters, and the remaining third being career firefighters. These men and women do incredible work, often putting their own lives on the line in order to save and help others, rushing out to burning buildings and dangerous situations and rescuing those who are at risk.
The work of a firefighter is inspiring and extraordinary, and these people deserve a lot of respect and admiration for all they do, but it’s also immensely dangerous. Dozens of firefighters, both volunteer, and career, die each year from a range of different causes.
Firefighters can die or get injured on the job from fires and associated risks like collapsing floors and ceilings, but they also face long-term risks as well, including some very serious diseases and mental health problems too. Read on to learn more about the major risks that all firefighters and would-be firefighters need to know about.
Heart disease is one of the biggest killers of firefighters, with statistics showing that around 45% of all work-related firefighter deaths are caused by heart attacks. This is mainly because the act of firefighting can be quite physically demanding and intense, with people being thrust into high-pressure situations and exposed to a lot of different stresses and risky factors, like high amounts of carbon dioxide.
It’s only natural that someone who repeatedly finds themselves in dangerous situations can be more at risk of heart issues like heart attacks and disease, and the risks can be made much worse if someone attempts firefighting work without being in excellent physical condition. Smoking and drinking on the side can increase the risks of heart attacks, and it’s vital to keep fitness levels high to ensure that you’re strong enough to take on this work with the lowest possible risks.
Cancer in firefighters is surprisingly common, and there are various factors associated with firefighting that may increase one’s risk of developing some form of cancer at some stage in life. Certain types of firefighting foam have been linked with cancer in the past, for example, and firefighters can frequently find themselves coming into contact with other cancer-causing substances and elements throughout the course of their work as well.
Firefighters can therefore be at risk of a wide range of cancer types, including cancer of the lungs, brain, bladder, kidneys, colon, and so on. Statistics even show that firefighters can have twice as high rates of developing cancer when compared to people in other professions, so it’s important for all firefighters to be aware of these risks and take proper precautions whenever they can to stay safe.
Naturally, one of the biggest risks facing firefighters is in regard to their lungs and general respiratory systems. A big part of fighting fires involves being exposed to a lot of smoke and fumes given off by burning buildings and materials. These fumes can be highly toxic, and if breathed in, they can cause major damage to the lungs, leading to higher rates of lung cancer, as mentioned above, along with higher possibilities of developing many other respiratory conditions too.
Firefighters can be routinely exposed to all kinds of respiratory risks, which is why it’s so important for them to always wear masks and other protective equipment, as necessary, and never to go into any burning structures or approach fires without taking the necessary precautions. As mentioned earlier on, the risks can be much higher in people who smoke, so it’s also wise to lead a healthy lifestyle and avoid smoking in order to reduce one’s risks.
Stress and Anxiety
Stress is another serious issue for firefighters to deal with, and it’s not uncommon at all for firefighters to feel stressed out. Statistics from recent years show worrying numbers of suicides among firefighters, as many are pushed right to the brink by their anxiety and mental trauma, with many firefighters also suffering from PTSD and similar issues due to the work they undertake.
Firefighting is a high-pressure job, involving unpredictable hours, dangerous situations, and a lot of difficult moments. The camaraderie and bonds that form between firefighters can help to see them through these difficult times, but ultimately, many people in the profession find themselves in need of therapy and counseling to take care of their mental health.
Last but not least on the list of serious health issues posed to firefighters is hepatitis. Both hepatitis B and C can occur in firefighters with surprising regularity, and it’s easy to understand why. Firefighters are often among the first responders to serious emergencies and incidents where people are injured. If they come into contact with blood from victims or survivors, the risks of various forms of hepatitis can be exceedingly high.
This is yet another reason why firefighting protective equipment is so important. It’s essential for firefighters to always wear gloves, goggles, and so on in order to protect themselves from the risks of hepatitis and other illnesses and injuries, as well as being properly trained in how to respond to emergencies and help other people in danger without putting their own lives at risk in the process.
It’s important for every aspiring firefighter to be aware of the risks they face, both in the short and the long-term, and it’s vital that more improvements are made in terms of firefighting standards, practices, and equipment in order to reduce these risks as much as possible. Firefighting will never be classed among the safest jobs, but there are clearly ways for it to improve in the future.
In the meantime, firefighters clearly need to know that along with fires and collapsing buildings, they can suffer from stress, cancer, and other long-term issues through their work, as outlined above. Any firefighters feeling symptoms of signs of physical or mental illness should seek medical care as soon as possible.