Holistic Wellness for Firefighters – Who’s looking out for our first responders?
Published: 7/07/2023
Author: Robbi King, Solutions Engineer at Vector Solutions

The public relies on first responders like firefighters to keep them safe. We take solace in knowing these heroes protect our lives while on the job. But who is keeping our first responders safe and healthy? While supporting physical well-being is top of mind (and should be), we also need to make sure we have safety nets in place for the mental toll of this line of work.

Physical preparedness
Firefighting is a dangerous profession, not only in action where the risks are more clear, but also in terms of the occupational hazard of cancer-causing substances. Over time, increasing evidence validates the risk of developing cancer for those in the fire service. According to U.S. Fire Administration, firefighters have a 9% higher chance of developing cancer and a 14% higher chance of dying from it.

With so many potential run-ins with hazardous material, it is imperative to closely and regularly monitor for any health abnormalities. We should be utilizing technologies to help solve this challenge through software solutions that include features like exposure tracking to ensure increased screening when appropriate.

Mental preparedness
Firefighters are 5 times more likely to suffer from PTSD. It is important for teams to support one another while simultaneously holding each other accountable. Sometimes that may mean taking a step back from their role to prioritize their personal safety and mental health. This is another area that technology software solutions should be used. Prioritizing first responders’ mental health by monitoring behavioral changes and intervening before an adverse event takes place will help address the mental health concerns dominant in the industry. Organizations looking to implement technology like this should look for performance-tracking management tools to help mitigate the risk of ongoing dangers. This kind of proactive solution is imperative for recognizing positive performance and preventing adverse events.

Training preparedness is crucial for mission success in these high-pressure situations. However, field training isn’t the only type of training important for firefighters, as they also need regular, proactive training on addressing the mental toll of routinely seeing disasters and human suffering.

Out in the world
Prior to my retirement, we had just implemented CISM debriefs after difficult calls. While we had attendance, the level of engagement was not there, so the debriefs ultimately weren’t effective. A fantastic colleague of mine was struggling heavily - unknown to the rest of us because we didn’t catch the warning signs such as a lower level of patient care and decreased training. Of course, we wanted to help and had good intentions, but without a system to do so, that level of visibility wasn’t available. Unfortunately, they ultimately left the profession due to the toll.

These kinds of preventable circumstances are all too common - and we need to employ every tool at our disposal to circumvent these situations before they occur. Beyond technology, check in with your brothers and sisters - showing commitment beyond the call of duty can make a big difference.

Ultimately, firefighters need support systems that allow them to care for their health, physical or mental. While the fire industry has - and will - face continued challenges in getting every firefighter home safely, there are software solutions available to help close that gap and ensure our brave men and women can get home safely each night.

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