In 2021, 57% of firefighter fatalities caused by illness or injury were the result of stress, overexertion, or medical issues. This is an alarming number, especially considering the dangerous nature of a firefighter’s work. That's why behavioral health, physical fitness, and peer support should be a priority for firefighter leaders. Making health of your firefighters your first priority will help them more effectively serve others as well as improve their own lives.
Protecting Firefighters’ Quality of Life
Because they’re often seen as pillars of strength in their communities, it can be easy to forget that firefighters are human. Resting and recuperating after a fire or any other traumatic incident is critical to their quality of life. While rules exist to ensure firefighters get the rest they need, these aren't always adhered to.
One way to improve compliance with such guidelines is to use an automated process to monitor rest time between jobs, ensuring firefighters are always allowed appropriate recovery time. If a firefighter is injured, automation can also monitor their recovery. The injured firefighter is removed from their shifts until they’ve had time to heal. After the designated healing time elapses, the automated system can put the firefighter back on their shifts, ensuring you won’t be unnecessarily short staffed because of administrative lag time.
Healthy Firefighters Are More Effective
To protect citizens during a fire, firefighters must first be able to protect themselves. Not only is healthy firefighter less likely to suffer an injury at work, but they also have greater mental clarity to make the quick decisions necessary in an emergency. When firefighters are healthy, they can most effectively meet the demands of their jobs. They’re able to follow procedures more efficiently and fires are put out faster. As a fire leader, working to keep your firefighters healthy can keep sick calls to a minimum so you always have sufficient staff to respond to emergencies.
Government Efforts to Support Firefighter Safety
The US House of Representatives has passed the Helping Emergency Responders Overcome (HERO) Act, which is now under Senate consideration. The HERO Act considers the risks of PTSD in firefighters as well as prevention and intervention measures that could protect their mental health. Passage of this act would be an important breakthrough in firefighter safety, demonstrating that their well-being is a public priority.
How to Support the Health of Your Firefighters
The well-being of your firefighters should be your top priority. There are a few easy ways to help your team be physically and mentally prepared before taking on a job.
Build a Sustainable Fitness Program
You may already have a fitness program in place for your firefighters to follow, but how well are they adhering to it? Sustainability is essential to a successful fitness program. Most importantly, make sure the routine does not overexert your firefighters. While they can certainly handle an intense workout, ensuring adequate time to rest will allow them to get the greatest benefit from it. Providing time and space for firefighters to work out with team members can provide healthy encouragement during workouts and boost motivation.
Talk About Nutrition
Most firefighters know it’s important to eat a healthy diet, but it’s easy for anyone to slip up occasionally. To help keep them on track, speak with your team regularly about diet. Always remember you are speaking to fellow adults, however, and come from a place of support rather than authority.
Offer healthy snack options around your department so that your firefighters can choose these options over less healthy ones. Many fire departments have vending machines in place, so make sure you stock healthy options such as nuts, fruits, protein bars, and unsweetened drinks.
Implement Mental Health Support
Mental health is vital to everyday functioning. If your firefighters are suffering mentally, they can’t perform their jobs as efficiently and safely. This puts them as well as others at risk. Make sure your department has a mental health strategy that includes PTSD support and that your team knows they can come to you if they are struggling.
Your Fire Department Must Be Healthy
With the right support from their fire chief, firefighters will be better able to tackle any job that comes their way. By focusing on nutrition, fitness, and mental well-being, fire leaders help keep their employees safe and prevent dangerous distractions and accidents.
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