Knowing how to avoid common firefighter hazards can save lives. Find out what your local firefighter may face each time they answer the call of a fire alarm.
Common Firefighter Hazards
Fighting fires is a life-threatening job. That is why training is a big part of the paid and volunteer firefighter's job. Firefighters train by learning the basics of fighting fires and by learning how to put out fires in actual buildings. By learning to fight real fires in a controlled burn situation, both trainees and veterans alike learn what to expect in an actual fire emergency.
Some hazards aren't what people expect when they think of your typical firefighter's job description. Many fire departments respond to chemical spills on the highway, traffic accidents, riots, coalmine collapses, aviation accidents and more.
Accident hazards are ones that are common for any firefighter during the course of duty. These include:
- Inhalation of superheated air
- Falling from heights due to collapsing buildings
- Interruption of a fresh air supply during rescue operations
- Injuries due to explosions
- Injuries from glass, metal, wood or liquids during a rescue
Physical hazards are hard to prevent during the course of a rescue. The right protective equipment can help protect a firefighter, but some physical hazards are hard to eliminate or predict.
- Flashovers or injuries from back drafts
- Exposure to loud noises
- Exposure to cold during the winter or in maritime rescues
Firefighters are exposed to chemical hazards when there are chemical spills on the roadways, when trains derail or even when a factory catches on fire. Common chemical firefighter hazards they face include the following:
- Inadequate fresh air to breathe
- Exposure to chemicals during a rescue
- Inhalation of chemical vapors
- Exposure to large quantities of carbon monoxide
While less common in the course of a firefighter's duty, they are trained to deal with biological hazards. A biological hazard includes exposure to communicable diseases and rescue work in the event of a dirty bomb explosion.
Ergonomic and Psychosocial Hazards
Working as a firefighter can cause stress, even in a seasoned veteran. Typical emotional problems include Post Traumatic Stress (PTS) and depression. Ergonomic firefighter hazards are related to overexertion of muscles during the course of duty. This can be related to moving heavy objects during a rescue or by wearing protective equipment, which can be very heavy.
Every fire department wants to keep their firefighters in peak physical and emotional condition. The rigors of the job demand this of everyone, no matter what shift they work on. Prevention measures are constantly evolving, but some are standard no matter where a firefighter works.
- Use the right equipment when using ladders, including a ladder hook
- Wearing all of the right protective equipment, every time
- Always wear the right restraining devices
- Wear the right protective clothing for the hazard
- Use personal alert systems during a rescue
- Rotate firefighters to prevent over exertion
- Seek counseling when needed after a rescue
Information on how to manage hazards is available to firefighters and any citizen. Tip sheets and data are available on many government and firefighter Internet sites. Information on these sites include specific details on how to deal with certain types of firefighter hazards, such as propane explosions and electrical hazards to research on hearing loss from loud fire engine sirens. The following websites have tips to help keep you, and your local firemen, safe.
- Canada's National Occupational Health and Safety Resource
- Center for Disease Control/National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health
- Everyone Goes Home Program
- Fire Leadership