What a pleasure to contribute to the Professional Fire Fighters of Wisconsin, the state of WI largest firefighter union, as their Lead Health and Fitness Contributor. Thank you to the PFFW for recognizing firefighter health as not just an administrative need but as a union need as well. Click the link above to read the original article or see the article below!

The Greatest Life Safety Concern – Firefighter Health Pt.1

As firefighters, life safety is the greatest concern during every emergency. When we arrive on an emergency scene we need to quickly inventory of these concerns and find what is the risks we are will to take in order to mitigate the situation. This foundation is the principle of all that we do. While we are willing to do incredible things to help people during an emergency, who’s life safety is most important?



Every emergency we respond to, it is our life safety and the life safety of our firefighters that needs to be preserved at all times. This is evident in every decision we make. However, it is apparent that the fire service as a whole has yet to truly address The Greatest Life Safety Concern – Firefighter Health.

Firefighter health is in a state of crisis. Because of your profession and passion you are at greater risk for medical issues over the general public. Some of the risks you are at an elevated risk of experiencing are…

  • Diabetes
  • Hypertension
  • Stroke
  • Heart Attack
  • Obesity
  • Cardiac Vascular Disease
  • Much More!

These medical concerns continue to be a major contributor to shortened careers and even shorter retirements. But there is another tragic consistent trend that has yet to be appropriately addressed.

HEART ATTACKS are the leading cause of LODDs since 1977?

Tragic! These are our brothers and sisters! These are the people we eat dinner with, clean the rig with, laugh, cry and smile with. In some instances this is us. However there is one other tragic statistic that needs to be addressed…

For every fatal cardiac related LODD there are 14 non-fatal heart attacks

These statistics are staggering, irrefutable and needed to be addressed with proper education, training and implementation. Now, that you are aware of this staggering information what do you do? Consider this…

0200hrs and you’re actively involved in a firefight. In the process you notice there are propane tanks on the exterior of this structure that are impinged by fire and are clearly prepared to explode. What do you do? Do you ignore it and fight the fire as if the life safety concern didn’t’ exist? Or do you adjust your tactics to meet this new information and make the right choice to protect the safety of your crew and yourself? You adjust your tactics to protect your crew and yourself.

In the same way, you are all now aware of the sad state of firefighter health. What do you do? Do you ignore this information neglecting the life safety concerns that exist for every firefighter? If so, your department has forgotten whose life safety is most important. Or do you adjust what you are doing and BE THE MOVEMENT to improve firefighter health and safety?


We need to BE THE MOVEMENT that will address these trends. However, many departments can become overwhelmed with this information that they don’t know where to look or what to do. This will be the first of 3 articles helping you learn how to put small things into place to move these trends with real, immediate application so your department can begin to address The Greatest Life Safety Concern – Firefighter Health.

Encourage Annual Physicals

Many firefighters neglect visiting their primary physician for a number of different reasons. One major contributor is that people just don’t think about it. This is understandable but not acceptable. For that it is incumbent on fire departments to make regular physicals a continued topic of conversation. When you do this you remind them of its value thus encouraging them to initiate this critical element to protecting their health. Some simple ways you can begin implementing this are…

  • Make a company based training on firefighter health and the importance of annual physicals
  • Create an incentive driven program that awards people for going to their doctor
  • Simply leaving a note once in a while on the fridge that says, ‘WHEN DID YOU LAST GO TO YOUR DOCTOR?”
  • When you visit the doctor talk about it!

While these may seem incredibly small and simple, it is the conversation that is impactful. It’s the continued dialogue passively and actively that will raise awareness and promote health. Not only will you be assisting the firefighter but you’ll also be assisting the public as your firefighters begin to take small steps to improve their health.

Fire departments have a duty and responsibility to care for their members and their life safety in emergent situations. This is very evident in the way that departments establish protocols, procedures and guidelines to protect their members. However, fire department’s role in caring for the life safety of their members is not evident when it comes to their health in non-emergent situations. That said, we need to address the greatest life safety concern we have and when you look at the statistics above it is clear that firefighter health is in a state of crisis. But this can be mitigated and addressed with simple application that raises awareness to the importance of The Greatest Life Safety Concern – Firefighter Health.

Are you interested in finding simple and creative ways to increase awareness of firefighter health in your department? Email me at jponder@fd-pt.com and I’ll share with you additional FREE resources you can use to increase your fire departments emphasis on firefighter health.


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