Are We Doing Enough?

By Dave LeBlanc
3 July 2022

You cannot pick up a trade journal, or open a social media page, or attend a class without someone telling you how much of a risk there is for you, as a firefighter, to develop cancer, heart disease, sleep disorders, PTSD, and so on.

There is no denying the evidence that we are at a higher risk than the general public for all of these things. The science supports those conclusions. However it makes one wonder why you would even do this job and expose yourself to the risks?  We all know why.  We get deep satisfaction from serving our communities, from helping those in need, from the challenges of the job and from the camaraderie of those we work with.  A lot of that gets lost in the “medication warning” messaging we are constantly exposed to. 

There is another part of this equation and it does not focus on the hazards. Instead it focuses on the individual firefighter. How many firefighters are seeking regular medical screenings? How many are taking advantage of all the resources out there to detect these illnesses early?

In my opinion it is hypocritical of us to point out all of these risks we face and to demand that someone do something to lower them when we are not even doing the bare minimum to help ourselves.

We have gone so far as to talk about changing tactics to reduce our exposure to carcinogens and when a large percentage of firefighters won’t even get a yearly physical how does that make any sense?

One could argue, that if we are not willing to take advantage of the resources available to screen for these illnesses then we don’t have any skin in the game when it comes to prevention. We clearly have some skin in the game, after all, we are doing the work. But is that enough?

Personal responsibility is something that seems to be missing in society and the fire service is no different. We are the first ones to demand that our town, city, or county address our concerns, yet what are we doing to make sure we are healthy and risk free?

In a survey done several years ago, a large percentage of firefighters stated they would not report a serious medical condition to their department if it meant they could no longer fight fires. Seriously. It was a small sample size, and certainly health awareness has become a bigger issue in recent years, but there is no doubt that this mindset still exists.

If we are not willing to take ownership of our own health, then we have no right expecting others to look out for us. We have have no right expecting our departments spend thousands of dollars on equipment designed to reduce our cancer risk. We have no right expecting our departments to change their tactics to reduce our exposure. We have no right, if we are not doing everything we can do for ourselves.

Yearly physicals, cancer screenings, and physical fitness are all things we can do for ourselves to make sure we are healthy. It is not a big lift. It does not require a lot of effort. But it will ensure you are personally doing all you can do for your own health. It is the one thing that works totally in your best interest.

This profession is a calling. A noble calling where an individual is asked to think of others before themselves. Most people engaged in this profession get deep satisfaction from that commitment. But we often lose sight of our needs in that commitment to the community. Yes, we need to focus on our community first, but we must ensure we can meet that commitment when the time comes.

So go see a doctor, and make sure you are ready when the time comes to serve.

Photo courtesy of Unsplash.

Read More from Dave LeBlanc.

Published by Data Not Drama

Data Not Drama is writings that provide a point of critical thought about firefighter fatality data and education, line of duty deaths, and risk. The main focus is to encourage less risk aversion and better knowledge on the subject of firefighter fatalities in firefighters, fire departments, and fire service organizations.

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