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The Importance of Safety to a Firefighter

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Where does safety start? Safety is not just a poster, it’s not just something we say to each other at the beginning of every shift. Safety is a requirement that affects every aspect of the fire department. You not only have to be safe at work but also when you are off the job, you must always be aware of your surroundings in and out of work. Besides being aware of your hazards you must also remember to make sure your body itself is safe and healthy.

PPE

Using your personal protective equipment may look like a normal part of your everyday response procedure, but it is a skill that must be practiced. Make sure you never take any shortcuts and always put on all your gear. Make sure all assigned PPE is kept in the ready position and put on in the right order, this helps the firefighter to be able to respond quickly to an emergency. Protective clothing is designed to protect us from different work-related hazards. Eye protection is very important as an emergency responder, eyes are at risk of many different hazardous exposures like dust, metal particles, debris, glass particles, and different chemicals. Eye protection is the only thing protecting your vision from the transmission of bodily fluids during a medical call or small shards of glass from a vehicle extraction. Wearing this protection will protect you from vision loss and other injuries. Just like eye protection hearing protection is another important piece of PPE equipment. Using earplugs and earmuffs are the one way to protect yourself from occupational hearing loss.

One of the most important pieces of PPE would be your S.C.B.A tank. The SCBA tank is a type of respirator that contains breathable compressed air. They are used by firefighters who are working in areas filled with smoke, toxic gas or other contaminants. Every morning while you are doing your PPE check each member is in charge of one SCBA tank that should be filled to capacity. A full tank will provide 45 minutes of breathing time and your tank should be checked every morning at the beginning of the shift.

According to the NIOSH report F2013-14 “A 29- year old male probationary firefighter died after running out of air and being trapped by a roof collapse”. While the crew was exiting the building, the firefighter became separated from the other two crew members. The firefighter later gave a radio transmission that he was out of air. A rapid intervention team was activated but was unable to locate him before the flashover occurred. Some of the recommendations from the NIOSH report F2013-14 and some of the key recommendations where that they should make sure that the firefighters and officers are properly trained in air management and out-of-air SCBA emergencies.

Keeping Yourself Healthy

There have been many firefighters who have died not due to hazards on the job but because of heart attacks, cardiac, and stressed related issues. When stress levels are up this can lead to problems with stress management and that can lead to sleep disorders. Training for health is key to stay healthy and to stay safe as a firefighter, also getting a good night’s rest is key for keeping yourself healthy. Sleep deprivation have been linked to heart failure, heart disease, obesity, diabetes, high blood sugar, and stroke. Building an exercise program is a great way to keeping yourself healthy. The exercising program needs to be built around for the persons needs of the department, working out the areas of the body that are being used the most are very important. Not only is working out good for your health but eating healthy is also very important, picking healthy food choices like salad, fruits, proteins, and a moderate amount of carbohydrates to optimize the firefighter’s health and wellness.

According to the NIOSH report F2018-05 “On March 12, 2018 a 44-year-old female career firefighter completed a physical ability test at the beginning of her 24-hour shift, and then reported to the station and was assigned as the driver of the rescue unit”. After returning back to the station she complained of burning in her throat and grasped her shirt, as they were assessing her, she went into cardiac arrest. Some of the key recommendations from this report are Phase in a mandatory comprehensive wellness and fitness program for firefighters, ensure firefighters are cleared for duty by a physician knowledgeable about the physical demands of firefighting, the personal protective equipment used by firefighters, and the various components of NFPA 1582.

Heat Related Injuries

Firefighting is already hard, and dangerous work at any time. But during the hot summer the risks increase dramatically. Between heat cramps, heat exhaustion, or heat stroke you need to know how to protect yourself. Heat cramps are painful, involuntary muscle spasms that usually occur during heavy exercise in hot environments. These spasms may be more intense and may last longer then the typical nighttime leg cramp. Heat exhaustion is a condition whose symptoms may include heavy sweating and rapid pulse, a result of your body overheating.

Heat Stroke is a type of severe heat illness that results in a body temperature greater that 104.0 F and confusion other symptoms include red, dry, or damp skin. According to Cal-OSHA regulations “Injury and Illness Prevention Program requires that employers identify all health and safety hazards, including heat stress”. You can protect yourself from heat stress and more serious heat disorders by following some of these rules. Make sure you maintain a high fitness level, always work with a partner and make sure to remind each other to drink lots of fluids and keep an eye on each other. While working make sure you are wearing loose fitting clothes to help the air movement through your body. But the most important thing to remember is to stay hydrated, its best to take a lot of water breaks every hour. Even after work continue drinking to replace fluid loss and drink a lot of electrolytes to help replenish your body.

According to the NIOSH report F2005-26 “On May 19, 2005, a 22-year-old male career Fire Fighter Recruit collapsed while completing a class run in formation at the end of a training day. The training activities started at 0700 hours with fire fighter training occurring throughout the day. During the run the Recruit exhibited fatigue and complained of blurred vision, but did not stop until he stumbled and fell approximately 300 to 500 yards from the training offices. The final diagnosis from the hospital was severe heat stroke with multisystem organ failure and sepsis with multiple complications”.

Fire Extinguisher Classifications:

As a firefighter we are responsible to know what type of fires we are fighting and how to extinguish them. There are six different classes of fires and seven different types of fire extinguishers. Class A fires involving solid materials such as wood, paper or textiles. Class B fires involving flammable liquids such as petrol, diesel or oils. Class C fires involving gases. Class D fires involving metals, and class K fires involving cooking oils such as a deep fryer. Some of the different types of extinguishers are the water extinguisher which fight class A fires which are fueled by solid materials such as paper, and wood.

Water extinguishers work by spraying a jet of water at the burning materials, wetting them and preventing re-ignition, they should not be used on live electrical equipment. Next there is foam extinguishers, these can be used on class A and B fires. These are the most suited to put out liquid fires such as petrol or diesel. Then we have powder extinguishers which are good multi-purpose extinguishers because they can be used on class A, B, and C fires. They can also be used on electrical equipment but they do not cool the fire so it can re-ignite. There are also carbon dioxide extinguishers these are ideal for areas that have a lot of different electrical equipment. And lastly, we have wet chemical extinguishers theses are good to extinguish class K fires which involve cooking oils. This extinguisher knocks down the flames and cools the burning oil and reacts like a soap solution. These tools are essential for firefighters because these are the main tools you are going to use when battling a fire, we can’t always put water on everything so it’s good to know which extinguishers are good for certain situations.

In conclusion safety starts with you and only you. As a firefighter there are many different things that can put your safety at risk but if you follow the rules and regulations and always keep aware of your surroundings you will be ok. We still have a lot to learn about when it comes to different ways to stay safe just remember your training and take in as much information as you can from your team.

References

  1. CDC – Fire Fighter Fatality Investigation and Prevention Program: Fire Fighter Fatality Investigation Report F2013-14. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/fire/reports/face201314.html
  2. Fire extinguishers. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.marsden-fire-safety.co.uk/resources/fire-extinguishers
  3. Safety Requirements In The Fire Service. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.firehouse.com/leadership/article/10544772/safety-requirements-in-the-fire-service.
  4. Zimmerman, D. (2012). Firefighter safety and survival. Clifton Park, NY: Delmar, Cengage Learning.

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