Early diagnosis of firefighter mental and physical health issues

It can extend or improve the quality of life.

The leading cause of fatalities on wildland fires is medical issues, according to data for 1990 through 2014 supplied by the National Interagency Fire Center. The numbers would probably be significantly higher if deaths that occurred away from the fireline but caused by the job were figured in, such as leukemia, testicular cancer, lung cancer, brain cancer, bladder cancer, ureter cancer, colorectal cancer, and non-Hodgkins’s lymphoma. Many jurisdictions list these as “presumptive cancers” and will automatically cover the medical bills of firefighters diagnosed with the conditions.

Another medical issue affecting firefighters, the elephant in the room, is mental health, something that is rarely talked about in a job where physical prowess and endurance is often used as a measuring stick. We are reminded of a firefighter who earlier in his career was highly regarded and respected, but has changed to the point where he is causing serious problems on and off the job. Some of his colleagues think he might benefit from professional psychiatric help.

Early diagnosis and treatment of physical and mental conditions can extend or improve the quality of life. We often hear, “If you see something, say something”. Usually that is used in the context of possibly dangerous conditions or crew resource management, but it can also apply to our co-workers who might need treatment for a dangerous physical or mental issue.

All firefighters and their families need to see the excellent nine-minute video covering the physical and mental health of firefighters  produced by Edmonton Fire Rescue. It was made possible by the family of deceased firefighter Edward James Paul (1954-2015).

Watch the video.

And, be careful out there.

Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, Bill Gabbert now writes about it from the Black Hills.

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