It’s all well and good to want to help your community and do more “exciting” and/or “adventurous” work than most careers. And the accolades our society bestows upon firefighters and the firefighting services are well-deserved. However, if you are considering a career as a firefighter you should educate yourself on the associated risks that are part of the job.

1. FIREFIGHTERS HAVE AN ELEVATED RISK OF DEVELOPING CANCER

Cancer may not be the first thing that comes to mind when considering firefighter health risks, but The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) estimates that firefighters have a 9% higher risk of being diagnosed with cancer than the general population. There are a number of potential carcinogens that firefighters are exposed to on the job, including smoke, soot, and hazardous chemicals. These substances can enter the body through the skin, lungs, and digestive system, and can increase the risk for a number of different types of cancer, including skin cancer, lung cancer, and mesothelioma.

2. FIREFIGHTERS HAVE A HIGHER RISK OF DEVELOPING RESPIRATORY PROBLEMS

Some of the same gases, chemicals, and other substances that may cause cancer can also cause damaging short and long-term effects on the respiratory system. According to a recent study, firefighters are at a higher risk of developing respiratory problems than the general population.

“A reduction in firefighter respiratory function two-to-four-times greater than the estimated decrease expected in the general population over a 5-year period was found among career firefighters. These findings provide evidence that more stringent use of SCBA is still needed to protect the respiratory health of firefighters.”

3. FIREFIGHTERS HAVE A HIGHER RISK OF DEVELOPING HEART PROBLEMS

According to an abstract published at the National Library of Medicine, “Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the leading cause of on-duty death among firefighters (45% of on-duty fatalities) and a major cause of related disease.”

However, the information also notes that these heart problems occur almost exclusively among susceptible firefighters with underlying CVD and suggests firefighters with established coronary heart disease should be restricted from participating in strenuous emergency duties.

Other studies conducted over the decades have found that firefighters experience high levels of anxiety which leads to an increased heart rate. And that a number of heart-related deaths occurred during fire suppression or responding to an alarm. A later study found that the risk of death from Coronary Heart Disease was up to 136 times higher during fire suppression.

In brief, there is an inherent risk to being a firefighter and aggravating coronary heart disease. The stress of firefighting and shift life creates extended periods of heart load that isn’t found in a general population.

4. FIREFIGHTERS HAVE A HIGHER RISK OF DEVELOPING SKIN PROBLEMS

The reason firefighters are at a higher risk for developing skin problems is the same reasons repeated in this article for other problems. Firefighters are constantly exposed to hazardous materials, such as smoke, and all kinds of chemicals released from burning materials. These can cause irritation and damage to the skin.

Of course, firefighters wear all kinds of protective gear to minimize this risk.

5. FIREFIGHTERS HAVE A HIGHER RISK OF DEVELOPING MENTAL HEALTH PROBLEMS

Firefighters are more likely to suffer from depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) than the general population.

The nature of their job puts them at risk for exposure to traumatic events. The reality of what they experience can be stressful and heartbreaking. Removing the dead from car wrecks and covering bodies at fire scenes is something the general public doesn’t experience.

Firefighters also work long hours and often have irregular work schedules. This can make it difficult to maintain a healthy work-life balance.

6. FIREFIGHTERS HAVE A HIGHER RISK OF DEVELOPING SLEEP PROBLEMS

Firefighters are at a higher risk of developing sleep problems for a number of reasons mentioned in this article. First, their work is physically demanding and often requires them to be on call for long hours. This can lead to sleep deprivation, which can in turn cause a variety of health problems (more than listed in this article). Additionally, firefighters are exposed to a variety of traumatic events (see point 5), which can also lead to sleep problems.

Finally, firefighters often work in shifts, which can disrupt their natural sleep patterns. All of these factors combine to make firefighters a high-risk group for developing sleep problems.

7. FIREFIGHTING IS A PHYSICALLY DEMANDING JOB

There’s no question that firefighters have one of the most physically demanding jobs out there. They’re constantly on their feet, running into burning buildings and carrying heavy equipment. And when they’re not battling fires, they’re often engaged in training activities that keep them in good physical condition.

Firefighters often work in hot, stressful conditions under physical duress and these factors can lead to an increased risk of heart attack. (See point 3 above). In addition, firefighters are exposed to hazardous materials and chemicals that can also take a toll on their respiratory health. (See point 2 above).

In brief, this is not a job for couch potatoes.

8. FIREFIGHTING IS A DANGEROUS JOB

We’ve saved the most obvious for last. Firefighters face a variety of dangers on a daily basis.

On an emergency call, firefighters must enter burning buildings, often without knowing what – or who – they will find inside. They may be exposed to toxic fumes, falling debris, and extreme heat. And, of course, there is always the risk of being injured – or killed – by the fire itself.

Firefighters face health threats from the chemicals released from all kinds of burning materials. These chemicals can be harmful and result in short- and long-term health issues, some of which are outlined in this article.

Having said all that, this article is not intended to discourage a potential or future firefighter from pursuing a career they are physically and emotionally suited for, but to simply ensure such a prospect has greater insights into what it means to have a career in the fire services.

8 Reasons Why You Might ‘Not’ Want to Become a Firefighter
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