Firefighters in Springfield and surrounding parts of Illinois frequently risk their lives to save others. However, along with the life-threatening hazards when they rush into burning buildings come a host of health risks not related to burn injuries. If you are a firefighter, you might agree that the rigorous training you receive might prepare you for the various emergencies you might encounter without paying enough attention to the personal health hazards you face.
Your occupation will always involve life-threatening risks, but you might be wise to take precautionary steps to avoid unnecessary exposure to threats that might compromise your personal health.
Safety authorities say toxic chemicals that are known carcinogens pose the greatest threat to the health of firefighters, and that cancer is the primary cause for firefighter deaths. Taking note of the following might give you a better understanding of this risk:
- Diesel engine exhaust fumes, ultraviolet radiation, benzo[a]pyrene, benzene and asbestos all form part of the common cancer-causing agents to which your occupation exposes you.
- The self-contained breathing or respiratory apparatus you wear when you respond to fires provide protection from carcinogen exposure.
- However, although your protective gear keeps the hazards away from your body, the contaminants cover the gear, making thorough equipment cleaning crucial.
- Cleaning must follow each call at which exposure to carcinogens was possible.
Cleaning of your protective gear is in itself a hazardous process for the following reasons:
- Chemical gases on your protective gear cause exposure to PAH (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon), VOCs (volatile organic compound), HCN (hydrogen cyanide) and other harmful particulates.
- Your fire station must clearly outline both the dry and wet decontamination processes.
- If you come out of an Immediately Dangerous to Life and Health (IDLH) area, you must not remove any part of your personal protective equipment, and you must continue breathing through your respirator until the completion of the decontamination process.
- Seal contaminated PPE and other apparatus in containers to avoid contact before cleaning.
Other health risks
Along with the risk of cancer, safety authorities say diabetes and heart disease are common consequences of obesity among firefighters, and committing to more healthy lifestyles can resolve such problems. Furthermore, frequent calls during the night can interfere with your circadian rhythms, causing sleep deprivation that can harm your health in various manners including colorectal cancer, Type 2 diabetes, dementia, heart disease, depression and anxiety. Recent studies show there are a significant number of firefighters with compromised mental health.
Reports also show that many firefighters develop addictions to alcohol and several other substances as a mechanism to cope with the elevated levels of work-related stress. If you have such a problem, the only way to overcome it is to acknowledge the fact that you risk your own safety and accept that you might need help.
Help is available
Fortunately, the increased awareness of the health hazards you and your fellow firefighters face has brought about understanding about the need for financial assistance. Benefits are available to cover the costs of medical treatment and therapy to treat occupational injuries and illnesses in firefighters. Navigating benefits claims could be challenging, but an attorney who has experience in dealing with the Illinois workers' compensation insurance system can provide the necessary support and guidance.