When we think about the health of firefighters, we often only consider the more high-profile risks they face. For example, the firefighters who rescued people on 9/11 are still dealing with ongoing health issues 20 years later. The WTC Health Program established after 9/11 has more than 125,000 people enrolled, and at least 18,000 have been diagnosed with cancer.
It’s not just very high-risk situations where firefighters face potential health hazards, however.
With that in mind, the following are some general tips that firefighters can keep in mind to feel their best, no matter what unexpected situation their profession might throw their way.
Know What Your Risks Are
In many cases, improving your health relies first on know what the most significant risks are for you. For firefighters, the most common health risks include:
- Heart disease: An estimated 45% of all work-related deaths among firefighters are due to heart attacks. The risk goes up when you’re engaged in actual firefighting because of the intensity of the work, the stress, the heat, and the exposure to carbon monoxide. Smoking can up all of the risks, including the potential of not just a heart attack but developing other conditions like coronary artery disease.
- Cancer: Firefighters are more than twice as likely to be diagnosed with invasive cancer than the average person, likely because of the materials they come in contact with through their job.
- Chronic respiratory illness: As a firefighter, you’re at a high risk of permanent lung damage, and again, if you smoke this risk is even greater.
Reduce Your Risk Factors
To be a healthier firefighter, there are lifestyle changes you can make that will help cut your risk of the three situations above and generally allow you to be healthier. Maintaining a healthy weight, stopping smoking if it’s something you do, and reducing or eliminating alcohol consumption are all helpful.
Getting enough exercise and finding healthy ways to manage stress can also help you be healthier overall and better positioned to do your job effectively and feel your best.
Find Ways To Manage Your Stress
This is mentioned above, and it’s important for people in high-risk positions. Make sure you find ways to manage your stress. Long-term, chronic stress is associated with illnesses ranging from anxiety and depression to high blood pressure and a weak immune system.
Don’t turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms like drugs or alcohol to manage stress.
Instead, try things like meditation or yoga and see what feels best for you. Everyone is different as far as what they find helpful to relieve stress.
Practice Mindful Eating
It’s not uncommon for a firehouse to be full of tempting foods, but those things might not be the best for your health. When you don’t eat well, not only is it going to cause your waistline to expand, but you’re going to feel more sluggish. You won’t be as able to perform well on the job, and you’ll generally have a lower quality of life.
Be mindful about your eating, rather than trying to follow a strict diet. Think about everything that you eat and whether it’s a good choice or a wrong choice. Also, pay attention to things like portions, and whether it’s processed.
As a firefighter, you’re at an increased risk of cancer and other health conditions because of the inhalation of smoke and toxic chemicals. While you can’t entirely avoid the risks that come with toxin exposure because of the nature of the work, there are things you can do to lower it.
First, take a shower right after a fire drill or an actual fire.
From there, consider using an infrared sauna or a sauna blanket. These are relatively affordable online, and they can help your body purge some of those toxins that you absorbed while working.
Drinking plenty of water and sweating it out in a workout can also help reduce some of the toxins in your body, plus you’ll feel mentally better when you do these things.
Take time to wash your personal protective clothing regularly. Keeping it cleaned and well-maintained cuts down on toxin exposure.
Finally, work on creating a different, more positive culture in your firehouse. Maybe you find accountability by making changes with someone else you work with, or perhaps you encourage your colleagues to practice a healthier lifestyle by making nutritious meals. When you have a sense of camaraderie and shared goals, you’re more likely to achieve them.