One-Third of Firefighter Injuries Caused by Exercise, Study Says

Injuries sustained while exercising accounted for a third of total injuries, despite the fact that exercising is designed to keep employees in good physical condition and decrease the risk of injury while on the job.

Firefighters are more likely to be injured while exercising than while putting out fires, suggests research published online in the National Library of Medicine’s journal, Injury Prevention. However, carrying patients is the task most likely to require time off from work, the study says.

Combined, firefighting and emergency medical service has one of the highest workplace injury and death rates in the U.S. The authors looked at data for injuries sustained while at work for 21 fire stations serving the metropolitan area of Tucson, Ariz., between 2004 and 2009.

The 650 employees included firefighters, paramedics, engineers, inspectors, and battalion chiefs. The average age was 41, and all but five percent were men.

During the study period, the average annual incidence of new injuries was 17.7 per 100 employees, most of whom were in their 30s and 40s.

Injuries sustained while exercising accounted for a third of total injuries, despite the fact that exercising is designed to keep employees in good physical condition and decrease the risk of injury while on the job.

One in six injuries (17 percent) were caused while transporting patients, and more than one in 10 were sustained during simulated training drills.

Sprains and strains were the most common type of injury, accounting for between 40 and 85 percent, followed by cuts and bruising.

Most (95 percent) of the injuries were minor in nature. Only one in 10 injuries occurred during firefighting, and a greater proportion of these were more serious. Almost half of time off work for injuries was caused by strains and sprains sustained while transporting patients.

The number of structural fires which need to be put out has been steadily falling since the 1970s, say the authors, but firefighters have taken on other responsibilities, and are now considered first responders for all types of medical emergencies, including natural disasters and acts of terrorism.

In 2009, most of the call-outs (84 percent) required basic or advanced life support, and one in 10 involved the need to put out a fire. The rest entailed technical rescue activities and other daily responsibilities.

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