Health risks in firefighting

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Standing a good chance of being burned, crushed, or killed are only a few of the risks that firefighters face at each call they respond to, but aside from these obvious risks, are some not so obvious ones that have long term, damaging effects in their lives concerning their health and length of life. To understand these risks we need to be aware of them and how they will ultimately affect our futures as well.

Self preservation is perhaps the most critical skill these firefighters can learn. They are taught during their schooling and drills the importance of knowing where they are and the hazards surrounding them at all times. There are a few pieces of mandatory equipment to aid specifically in lessening their chances of developing long term problems. The first of these is their SCBA (Self Contained Breathing Apparatus) which is used to filter the air around them in cases of high levels of carbon monoxide or gaseous air, as well as aiding in preventing smoke inhalation. The problem with these — they are not, as with anything man made, 100 foolproof, meaning there is still going to be noxious gasses or smoke inhaled by the firefighter. The PASS (Personal Alert Safety System) is used primarily as a means of locating firefighters inside a burning structure if they have to cease movement for at certain period of time, or if manually deployed. It enables those outside to keep track of the movement of the workers inside, and to enter in and aid them if anyone needs it. Along with these are the personal self rescue ropes. These have proved invaluable of late, sadly too late for some. Two firefighters in New York lost their lives after jumping from a fourth story window to get out of the fire. Out of the four who jumped and somehow managed to survive the fall, just one of them had a self rescue rope. Following the incident, the city of New York has cleared the issue of mandatory self rescue ropes for all of their firefighters.

Of all of the hazards they face in a day, you would think it hard to suffer from any vehicular related incidents, however, the opposite is true. At least a quarter of all of the deaths that occur to firefighters, in the United States, are accidents involving vehicles as they are either returning from a crisis or responding to one. There have also been far too many killed or injured during their work at an incident, by other vehicles. Following this is the most fatal hazard to most firefighters everywhere, heart disease. For some, this may come as a surprise, but for others it is only logical. Heart problems have long been associated with firefighting, and cardiac death is, shockingly, the primary cause of death for firefighters in relation to on-duty deaths statistics. There are other occupational hazards, such as carbon monoxide, and substances containing nitrogen and carbon, and hydrogen cyanide. Carbon monoxide is most usually found in most fires that occur, but hydrogen cyanide is a deadly gas created when plastics, cotton, paper, and other things that contain nitrogen and carbon in them, are on fire. These deadly gasses are supposedly filtered through the SCBA, but the inhalation of them retards the flow of oxygen in the body, possibly resulting in Hypoxia which ultimately can result in heart trouble.

Smoke inhalation is another largely damaging hazard. Not only are the lungs effected, but also your heart and your body in a myriad of ways suffers from the smoke, and can result in atherosclerosis. Hypertension has also been attributed to firefighting, due to the noise and stress involved in any crisis. These situations call for speedy actions and quick decisions to be made. This can be draining emotionally as well as mentally and physically. Over-exertion can also result in problems with the heart, as some firefighters have a tendency to push themselves physically much farther than is wise.

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