Tuesday, June 16, 2015

How Much is 40% to a Firefighter?

This post that you will read here, encompasses an extremely important issue that many first responders, especially, firefighters, EMT/Paramedics and Police Officers, must be made to read!! "Why?" you ask. Because for the year 2012-2013, forty percent (40%) of the firefighters who died either during or subsequently to responding to and/or working at a major, physically exhausting call, did so as a result of a medical condition.

I approach this important issue from three levels. I was a volunteer firefighter at two departments, one in NC and one in NY from 1977-1981 until an injury took me out-of-service. I earned my EMT-I and II in NC and also worked for the county EMS there for eight months, before we moved up to NY. Finally, I spent twelve years as the administrator of a medical practice, where the doctor used me for "other" duties, as well.

Throughout the entire time and even til today, I have never stopped reading FireHouse Magazine. For many years, other than visiting firehouses wherever I went, the magazine was my key connection to the fire-rescue service. And every month, I would read the LODD dedications and wonder why...why were so many firefighters dying? Not just dying, but dying from what looked like conditions unrelated to the last call or calls they had been on. 

You see, I guess I was lucky. Because during my brief years of service, I did not experience a LODD either in my own or the surrounding departments. We had some close calls in both locales, but no fatalities.

On the other hand, I've never been considered "svelte," at least not since I was seven years old. I started packing on extra pounds at that age and yo-yo'd the rest of my life. I was the last kid chosen by the others to be on a team in neighborhood sports. I had the cheeks that all of my late aunts loved to pinch. Finally, in college, I started to drop some weight by playing softball with friends. 

I've now been married over forty years and my wife is a terrific cook and baker. So through most of those 40 years, my weight has fluctuated, but it was always my decision to lose weight. I never waited for my doctor to tell me. I knew it myself when it was tough to button a pair of pants or my suit jackets were getting too tight.When that happened, I'd go "back on the wagon," and drop 15-25 pounds. I'd keep it off for several months, sometimes longer. But then the extra pounds renewed their attach and started to creep back on.

Finally, partly due to determination and partly due to meds that I have to take continually for my severe back condition, I've lost about 30 pounds and kept it off for almost a year now. Funny thing is, my back injury doesn't allow me to walk as much as I used to, so I exercise my bending my elbows....and pushing myself away from the dinner table!

As I'm sure you'll agree, we are part of a wonderful family. No matter where we serve, no matter if we're volunteers, career folk or paid-on-call responders, a firefighter is always a firefighter. Thus, as I read the LODD bulletins that come through my email or I read the articles online, in the paper or watch them on the news, every loss saddens me, especially those that might have been prevented. For some are simply not preventable and that's the first fact that we have to acknowledge, whether we like it or not.

However, we see that the rate of LODD's caused by health problems is nearly 40% of all LODD's, it must give us pause. As a popular commercial for heart disease demonstrates, no one really knows when they will have a heart attack, an aneurism or a stroke. What we can and do know is if we are out of physical conditioning to do our jobs. Sure, you may have passed a PAT test 15 years ago, but where are you now, especially if you're in a smaller department, that doesn't require annual or semi-annual physical exams? Do you still smoke or chew tobacco? What is your resting blood pressure? Pulse? What is your weight today compared to what it was when you entered the job? Has an officer, your spouse/significant other or doctor told you you need to lose weight? If so, have you heeded their call or brushed them off.

Remember the old TV show, "Home Improvement," where Tim Allen played the host of a TV show aimed at "real men," with "real power tools!" The more power, the more Tim howled and growled. While that was funny on TV, it can all too often lead to a tragedy in real life. Your doctor tells you to drop 25 pounds. "Yeah, Doc, sure," you reply, knowing full well that the doctor has no idea how hard you swung the sledge earlier that day to take out a heavy door. You tell yourself that those 25 pounds that he/she is complaining about is really what gives you that extra bulk, that power, to do your job! Horse shit! And you know it!

There's no doubt in my mind that over 90% of us love what we do. We love the action, we love the thrill, we love the services we perform and we don't want anything to get in the way of that. But ask yourself, "What else do I love?" Think about that for a moment or two. Then make a list of what else you love, i.e. your wife, your kids, your parents, your significant other, your siblings, your friends. Which ones are you ready to cross off the list first. What's more important to you, the job that you love or the people that you love and love you?
Remember, we can't control when and where the Devil wants to dance, but we can decide what kind of a "dance partner" he's going to face!

Stay Safe and let's make sure, "Every One Goes Home!"

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