There are so many important elements to the fire service but which is the greatest asset?Is it the rig? If you get into an accident, you could get suspended, demoted, fired, or worse. A traumatic accident could cause injury or death. Is it your policies and procedures? So much timeand energy is spent on developing policies so they can be followed. They provide the framework to make tactical decisions in an emergent situation. Is it the patients and victims? When someone is trapped inside a fire, our entire plan is changed to assist them. Not to mention that during emergency medical services runs it is critical that we provide the proper care given the signs and symptoms of the patient. It has to be them, right? They direct the most critical decisions we make during an emergency! While all of these assets are important, they are not the most valuable asset to the fire service.
YOU are the most valuable asset to the fire service. YOU handle emergencies, address crises, and execute the oath you took to protect the life and property of your municipality. Removing YOU from any aspect of the fire service negates the mission of the fire service because there is no YOU to fulfill it.
Taking Care of Each Other
The firefighter being the most valuable asset to the fire department is evident in how we operate from the Phoenix Model. Risking a lot to save a lot, risking little to save little, and risking nothing for what is already lost is the mindset all of our decisions come from. However, it is easy for to lose sight of this because our entire profession is about solving external issues. That’s why we rightfully spend countless hours working on confined space, scene size up, rescuing victims, and much more. But during the spontaneity of a traumatic emergency event it is instinctive for firefighters to divert their attention to their own.
You may recall a video where firefighters are performing extrication with a patient trapped in the driver seat. There are firefighters standing around the car and one firefighter is reaching across the passenger seat, presumably maintaining the cervical spine immobilization of his patient. Suddenly, the airbag is deployed, striking the firefighter reaching across the passenger side knocking him back and out of the car. What is the reaction of every firefighter on scene? They turn towards the injured firefighter to tend to his needs, softening their focus on the patient. Firefighters take care of firefighters is ingrained in you! So what is the current state of firefighters?
The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) began conducting statistical analysis on firefighter injuries in 1981. This data has been diligently collected to see if there are trends within this category. What has been uncovered is staggering. Firefighters are 1,450 percent more likely to get injured than an employee in the general public. You are 14.5 times more likely to get hurt than your non-firefighting friends and family simply because of your profession. This makes sense though, right? You work in a dangerous job where injuries are bound to happen. After all, you must concern yourself with airbags deploying unexpectedly during extrication. Traumatic injuries happen all the time. While traumatic injuries do occur and deserve respect, the NFPA uncovered that the leading cause of injuries to firefighters is strains and sprains occurring on the fireground. The number one cause of firefighter injuries stems from the over lengthening and overuse of ligaments and tendons which connect muscle to bone or bone to bone. While this may come as a surprise to you, that isn’t it the most surprising summary.
The NFPA has specifically stated that, since they began collecting data, the injuries per 1,000 fires has yet to change over the last 35 years. While the number of injuries has gone down, this runs parallel with the reduction of fires, not because firefighters are safer. Now think about this. How has the fire service changed over the last 35 years? You have better gear, policies, and rigs, and the list goes on. All of these changes are important; however, they have not reduced the number of injuries per 1,000 fires. The changes that the fire service has experienced focus on changing the world around the firefighter—not the firefighter. While the fire service is better because of these changes, you need to change the firefighter intrinsically to decrease the injury numbers.
The leading cause of firefighter injuries continues to be strains and sprains, which is an intrinsic issue resulting from poor movement ability. Unknowingly, firefighters are using poor movements even without wearing their gear. But when they put on their gear, their restrictions become exaggerated exponentially. This, along with the fact that they are moving in a chaotic environment possibly performing unfamiliar actions, explains why this data continues to be unchanged. So what can you do?
The NFPA clearly states that to reduce injures, departments need to provide an integrated health program. This is the reason why they created NFPA 1583, Standard On Health-Related Fitness Programs for Fire Department Members. This standard outlines the specifics of how your department can take action against firefighter injuries. From there, there is an entire network of individuals ready to help you develop your firefighters and develop your program to be sustainable and save your department money while improving the lives of you and your personnel.
Addressing these movement restrictions comes by identifying them through a movement screening and generating a simple and easy program you can follow. For that I am dedicating myself to all of you personally to conduct a movement screening virtually as you request. If you are interested in reducing your personal risk of strains and sprains reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org for simple instructions, free of charge.
Is your department taking action against this 35-year trend of firefighter injuries by implementing NFPA 1582? Are you active or passive in creating a health program for your staff?
What are you doing to change the firefighter and not just the world around the firefighter? At the end of the day, you need a department-wide integrated health program. Why? Because the firefighter is the greatest asset to the fire service!