How Can We Better Ensure Firefighter Health And Wellness?
5 May 2020
Ensuring the health and wellness of firefighters is a burden shared among equipment manufacturers as well as the fire departments and individual firefighters. Thoughtful design of equipment and other products used in the fire service can be a positive factor as firefighters and other first responders face dangerous situations every day. We asked our Expert Panel Roundtable: What steps can we take to better ensure firefighter health and wellness?
Fire and rescue services already do a huge amount to promote, encourage and ensure firefighter health and wellness, including on-station gyms, sports clubs, healthy eating campaigns, post-incident decompression and increasing attention to mental health wellbeing. The immediate priority is to effectively address contamination of fire kit, PPE and equipment from carcinogenic compounds of combustion, which have been linked to very high levels of cancer among firefighters. The provision of kit and equipment cleaning systems and “extra” fire kit would go a long way towards mitigating this risk, however the ability to make this kind of investment in firefighter safety will inevitably be dependent upon the funding of fire services from central government.
At MSA we work very closely with our customers to make sure that our products meet their needs. We have included innovations in our products designed to assist with the protective side of health and wellness. That’s why we introduced removable soft goods for both Cairns Fire Helmets and our G1 SCBA. This capability allows firefighters to remove the textile elements of each product and launder. In addition, through our Globe turnout gear, we offer an interface guard system to reduce particulate exposure. We also focus on ergonomics, with a completely redesigned SCBA for optimal weight distribution, ice gripping soles for our Globe boots, and revolutionary new turnout gear design through our Athletix products. These innovations support the areas that firefighters have told us are most important to them. By providing these products, we’re supporting firefighters as they work to increase their overall health and wellness.
As the fire and rescue teams put their lives on the line every time they attend a blaze, there are ways we can all help them in the supply chain. Ensuring we follow all due compliance and standard regimes helps to safeguard lives and property and the safety of the firefighters themselves. This means the products installed and the way they work together to create safe and reliable systems will help them when they arrive to tackle a fire. For example, selecting the correct fire performance cabling ensures critical fire-safety circuits can continue to operate in the event of a fire from 30 minutes up to 120 minutes and supports systems that provide intelligence for the fire and rescue services. Our firefighters would be better protected and confident if they knew the products and services in many of our buildings are compliant and are supplied with approvals from independent bodies.
While large naval ships carry dedicated firefighters, most workboats, commercial ships and smaller naval vessels rely on crew trained in firefighting procedures, and automated fire detection and suppression equipment. Because of the wide range of combustibles aboard a ship—petroleum products, AC and DC electrical equipment, cargo, general rubbish—and often very cramped onboard spaces, extinguishing fire events quickly before they can overcome crew is critical. Unlike land-based firefighters that can back out of a hazardous inferno, the call to abandon ship offers no promise of survival. This is why 3M™ Novec™ 1230 is essential aboard a ship. Electrically non-conductive and non-corrosive, the fire suppression solution is safe for human exposure without reducing fire extinguishing capabilities. Combined with a detection and suppression system engineered for a specific vessel, it offers the most effective means to ensure the health and wellness of the crew, while protecting the vessel's operational status.
The health and wellness of our front-line first responders must be a priority. Many departments have taken the route of providing multiple sets of turnout gear to each first responder in order to allow time for cleaning in between calls. This is a great step in the right direction but needs to be further implemented. The days of dirty gear being a badge of honor are over, and we all need to look at cleaned gear as the way to prevention of illness. With cardiac events being a leading cause of death to first responders and being a quadruple bypass survivor myself, it is important to remind ourselves of our physical limitations. Awareness by ourselves and our peers to our limitations is key to know when we are doing too much and putting ourselves and others at risk.
One way to promote the health and wellness of firefighters is to ensure that their equipment is free of contamination. Products should also be designed to meet the specific needs of firefighters. Finally, products should work together to create safe and reliable systems. Impending danger is a reality of the fire service, but we all have a stake in making certain that firefighters are protected and well-equipped to meet the challenges.