firefighterA firefighter is a rescuer thoroughly trained in firefighting.  Their primary role is to eliminate fires that endanger property as well as human or even natural populations.  They also save people from risky situations, such as collapsed or burning structures or damaged vehicles. In certain areas, they can also be trained in Emergency Medical Services (EMS) and may also operate ambulances in addition to being a firefighter.


Firefighting is a physically demanding occupation; hence firefighter health and wellness needs to be a priority to all in the fire service. Living a healthy life, limiting harmful exposures, having an excellent fitness program and clean diet are essential for firefighters. Firefighters face possible physical dangers on every call, therefore remaining fit and healthy is their best security from injury or illness. But due to the routine exposures encountered, hazards are not always avoidable.

Firefighter Health and Wellness Dangers:

Following are a few firefighter health and wellness risks that are not as visible as burns or as apparent as the dangers of a structure collapse:

  • LIFESPAN: Research has shown the life span of firefighters is on average, 10-15 years less than non-firefighters.
  • HEART PROBLEMS: A major reason for deaths among firefighters is heart associated problems, thus, keeping a healthy lifestyle and healthy diet along with regular medical checks are a vital strategy.
  • CANCER: Firefighters are identified as having cancer at a higher rate than the general population, largely due to toxic chemical exposure, such as those released while buildings and vehicles are burning.
  • RISK OF CONTAGIOUS DISEASE: Firefighters routinely respond to medical emergencies. Such may not only jeopardize the firefighter, but even members of his family, after bringing home a contagious illnesses he faced at work.
  • EXPOSURE TO HAZARDOUS MATERIALS: In spite of the best hazardous materials (Haz Mat) training and equipment available, firefighters nevertheless run a risk of exposure. This usually arises as a result of insufficient details being presented during preliminary reports. Firefighters sometimes don’t realize what they are responding to, until arriving on-scene.
  • POST INCIDENT EXPOSURES: Many professional departments currently require use of Self Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA) during fires. However, some firefighters remove their SCBA’s at times of the greatest risk of toxic exposure to work faster or administer aid more efficiently. Even after the occurrence, firefighters may be exposed to traces of poisonous gases that pervaded equipment and apparel during a fire.


Shorter life expectancy
Firefighters have lower life expectancies compared to the typical population and are three times more likely to die on the job, partially as a result of inherent dangers, physical and psychological stress, as well as exposures to poisonous and carcinogenic chemicals released in smoke (reference: US Bureau of Labor Statistics, University of Cincinnati).

Firefighter overtime is not a part of retirement calculations
Retirements are determined based on averaging the basic wages over a long time, and do not include any overtime pay or even other earnings which are not a part of the basic compensation (certain remunerations, such as education bonuses and allowances, are included — however, overtime is not).

Retirement savings goes back to the “system” whenever a firefighter-retiree dies

In a public determined benefit retirement system, once a firefighter dies, their retirement donations and all received interest go back into the “system” to help purchase other living retiree’s perks, contrary to a private sector 401K wherein the retiree’s family keeps 100% of their retirement donations (and interest profit and market increase) upon their demise. A firefighter’s partner will keep just 50% of the retiree’s benefits, not like a private sector retiree’s husband or wife who keeps 100%.

Firefighters are at Much Greater Risk for many Cancers
Firefighters face a higher cancer risk compared to the general population: The following list represents various types of cancer and their increased risk for firefighters:

  • Testicular cancer, 102%
  • Multiple myeloma, 53%
  • Non-Hodgkin lymphoma, 51%
  • Skin cancer, 39%
  • Brain cancer, 32%
  • Prostate cancer, 28%
  • Stomach cancer, 22%
  • Intestinal tract cancer, 21%

(The Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 2010).

Retirement savings are paid by employee
Firefighter retirement benefits are not given by the “taxpayers,” towns, counties or state. Taxpayers (which include firefighters) pay the same taxes as other citizens.  Retirement benefits are a type of deferred remuneration, paid by the worker funded retirement systems. Most of these funds come largely from market expansion and investment yields from a combination of staff and employer donations generated while the employee was working. Firefighters contribute at least 8-16% of their salary to retirement savings.  (Reference)


Health and Life Expectancy of Firefighters
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