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Firefighters: Why are YOU not taking care of yourself?

Every day in the United States firefighters go from call to call. Every day we see some type of media coverage on the news about how a firefighter did something negative or positive (in the eyes of the media). Firefighters put themselves in harm’s way in many different ways.  Some end up being hit by careless drivers while working a traffic accident, some end up injured by falling, some get punched, bit, or any variation in between.  However, if we take a step back and look at statistics (especially in the fire service) you might be surprised to learn that 54% of line of duty deaths are caused by overexertion or medical issues (NFPA Report – Firefighter Fatalities in the United States, n.d.) This means that over HALF of the line of duty deaths in 2019 were not caused by some type of fireground injury or accident.  A quick review of the latest line of duty deaths the causes of two deaths on June 21 and June 30, 2020, were caused by overexertion or medical issues.

Let us dive deeper into overexertion. Overexertion could be caused by many things. Manpower shortage, lack of rehab protocol, lack of knowledge, not being in shape, and many other factors.  Now, let’s take a deeper delve into medical issues.  Most medical issues seem to be related to heart issues, namely coronary artery disease.  The common theme that seems to exists amongst all of this is a lack of fitness. All of this can be greatly reduced and is preventable if firefighters took care of themselves.  Yet many don’t even give it a thought.

 I’ve personally come across a few in my career (and in fact had to take the call from a family member that a fellow firefighter had passed) who have passed away of the same. It is heartbreaking to see the devastation it causes to not only blood family but the descendants’ fire service family too.  The funerals, autopsy, the crying, and all the associated rituals that come with it.  It ends up being one very sad and solemn occasion. Yet, it could be prevented.

Firefighters lets take a step back and focus on ourselves for a minute. You are so busy going from double shift to your part-time job that you may have forgotten to focus on yourself. After a few years of this you notice that you’ve gained a few pounds, your bunker pants fit tight now (or not at all), you seem to have less energy, you come home from your shift and sleep all day, your work performance suffers along with your performance in the bedroom. These are all signs that your health is in jeopardy.  Its time to act now!!  Start taking care of yourself now!!  Chiefs…What are you doing to ensure your crews are healthy?

Nutrition is a great place to start.  Take a look at your eating habits and see what you are eating on a daily basis. Use a food journal to document every meal you have. This will make it clearly visible to you what you are eating. Be sure to include the times you are eating also as it is important to understand how infrequently or frequently you are eating also. Once you have that journal complete for at least a week, then take a hard look at where you can improve. If you need help determining what and how you should be eating feel free to book a time to chat with me to discuss!! Visit us on Facebook at facebook.com/TFNutrition or www.TotalForceNutritionandExercise.com

Written by Tom Ferry, MHA, MPhil

Tom Ferry is a nutrition specialist with Total Force Nutrition and Exercise. He is a former firefighter/paramedic who still occasionally works as a paramedic but now focuses on taking care of first responders through nutrition.

References

NFPA report—Firefighter fatalities in the United States. (n.d.). Retrieved July 18, 2020, from https://www.nfpa.org/News-and-Research/Data-research-and-tools/Emergency-Responders/Firefighter-fatalities-in-the-United-States

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