IAFC Releases Guide to Address Gap in Firefighters' Physicals

"Firefighters need health care that is tailored to the inherent risks of their dangerous jobs," said Chief John Sinclair, IAFC's president and chairman of the board. "The guide provides doctors and firefighters clear information about the clinical care needed to address these risks."

The International Association of Fire Chiefs released "A Healthcare Provider's Guide to Firefighter Physicals" this week in a bid to assist health agencies and boost the health and wellness of firefighters. The guide serves as an important new tool for firefighters to manage their own health, according to IAFC.

The research-supported, experience-driven guide was spearheaded by IAFC's Safety Heath and Survival Section and features a systems approach to the physical examination of firefighters, addressing cardiovascular health and fitness, cancer, musculoskeletal injuries, behavioral health, lung disease, sleep disorders, and infectious diseases.

IAFC reports recent studies and surveys indicate there's a gap in firefighters' health care:

  • According to the National Fire Protection Association, sudden cardiac deaths account for 51 percent of on-duty firefighter deaths.
  • Research by Denise Smith, Ph.D., of Skidmore College found that for every line-of-duty death, there are an estimated 17 non-fatal cardiac events on duty among firefighters.
  • An IAFC survey found that only 45 percent of volunteer firefighter respondents and up to 80 percent of career firefighter respondents receive annual firefighter physicals.

"Firefighters need health care that is tailored to the inherent risks of their dangerous jobs," said Chief John Sinclair, IAFC's president and chairman of the board. "The guide provides doctors and firefighters clear information about the clinical care needed to address these risks. The IAFC encourages all firefighters to be strong advocates for their own health and wellness by making sure their doctor examines them for the many health risks they face."

"As a former firefighter and department physician with the Boston Fire Department and now as the primary care provider for many Boston-area firefighters, I have developed a unique perspective and understanding of the many immediate and long-term serious health risks associated with firefighting," said Dr. Michael Hamrock of St. Elizabeth's Medical Center, who was a primary contributor in the development of the guide. "These guidelines will be extremely beneficial to primary-care clinicians and have a profound impact on improving the health and saving the lives of many firefighters. Primary-care providers will now be better equipped to more effectively screen and intervene early on the specific occupationally related illnesses that are disabling and killing too many of our firefighters."

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