IAFC releases guide to fill gap in firefighter physicals

Published:  09 November, 2016

The International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) has released ‘A Healthcare Provider’s Guide to Firefighter Physicals to assist healthcare providers in the evaluation and treatment of the health and wellness of firefighters.

The guide serves as an important new tool for firefighters to manage their own healthcare.

The research-supported, experience-driven guide, spearheaded by the IAFC's Safety Heath and Survival Section, features a systematic approach to the physical examination of firefighters, addressing cardiovascular health and fitness, cancer, musculoskeletal injuries, behavioural health, lung disease, sleep disorders and infectious diseases.

Recent studies and surveys suggest there is a serious gap in the provision of healthcare of firefighters in the US:

  • According to the National Fire Protection Association, sudden cardiac deaths account for a majority (51%) of on-duty firefighter deaths.
  • Research by Denise Smith, PhD, Skidmore College, found for every line-of-duty death there are an estimated 17 nonfatal cardiac events on duty among firefighters in the US.
  • An IAFC survey found that only 45% of volunteer firefighter respondents and up to 80% of career firefighter respondents receive annual firefighter physicals.

‘Firefighters need healthcare that is tailored to the inherent risks of their dangerous jobs,’ said Chief John Sinclair, IAFC president and chairman of the board. ‘The guide provides doctors and firefighters clear information about the clinical care needed to address these risks. The IAFC encourages all firefighters to be strong advocates for their own health and wellness by making sure their doctor examines them for the many health risks they face.’

This guide is an important new tool designed to explain to the job of firefighting to healthcare providers, whether or not a fire department offers NFPA 1582 physicals. It addresses the physiological demands, hazards, exposures, diseases, illnesses and injuries firefighters are most prone to suffer. Through research and experience-driven clinical recommendations, it focuses a healthcare provider’s examination.

‘As a former firefighter and department physician with the Boston Fire Department and now as the primary care provider for many Boston-area firefighters, I have developed a unique perspective and understanding of the many immediate and long-term serious health risks associated with firefighting,’ said Dr. Michael Hamrock, St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center, a primary contributor to the development of the guide. ‘These guidelines will be extremely beneficial to primary-care clinicians and have a profound impact on improving the health and saving the lives of many firefighters. Primary-care providers will now be better equipped to more effectively screen and intervene early on the specific occupationally related illnesses that are disabling and killing too many of our firefighters.’

This resource, years in the making, is a result of great collaboration between the Safety, Health and Survival Section and FSTAR. The guide is built in concert with the principles of both the Standard on Comprehensive Occupational Medical Program for Fire Departments (NFPA 1582) and the IAFC/IAFF Wellness-Fitness Initiative. It was made possible through the IAFC’s FSTAR initiative, funded by an ‘Assistance to Firefighters Grant/Fire Prevention and Safety Grant’ award from FEMA.

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