While firefighters are exposed to fires almost daily due to their profession, they do not suffer burn injuries like people in other occupations. This is due in part to the protective clothing they wear. However, firefighters are injured on the job, but the causes are usually from the strenuous type of work they do.
Despite wearing filtering masks, firefighters are exposed to inordinate amounts of carbon monoxide. Inhalation of smoke can lead to many diseases. For instance, heart and lung diseases are worsened or initiated by excess smoke inhalation. In addition, this line of work can lead to other types of stress-related disease.
Forty-five percent of all deaths among firefighters that are work related is due to heart disease. Initiation factors such as smoke inhalation, heat exposure and stress are all present. Personal attributes the firefighter brings to the job are also implicated such as being overweight, smoking or being hypertensive, all leading to cardiovascular disease. Mental stressors also are a factor in both firefighting and heart disease.
Inhalation of Carbon Monoxide Leads to Heart Disease
Inhalation of carbon monoxide is the main reason for heart disease among firefighters. The physical demands of firefighting enhance the need for increased oxygen as the body struggles to work under these conditions. However, the presence of high carbon monoxide levels replaces the oxygen the firefighter so desperately needs. By decreasing the oxygen levels, it sets the stage for coronary heart diseases and irregular cardiac rhythms.
Respiratory Diseases Are Common Among Firefighters
Pulmonary disease is a common cause of illness and death among firefighters. It is even higher among firefighters who smoke. Due to the exposure of carbon monoxide and other toxic chemicals firefighters face constantly, their risk of severe and long-term respiratory disease is high. Chemical substances the firefighter is exposed to at work may also be present in cigarette smoke, and this dual exposure increases the firefighter’s risk of lung disease.
Cancer Among Firefighters
The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) did two large-scale studies to examine the risk of cancer among firefighters. The researchers concluded that firefighters have a 9 percent higher risk of cancer due to smoke inhalation. The firefighters also share a 14 percent higher risk of cancer-related fatalities. Skin cancer can also originate from earlier burn injuries suffered, which leads to many personal injury cases.
Cancer Causing Materials Used to Fight Fires
In addition, firefighters come into contact with cancer-causing substances as they do their job. An example of this is aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF), which is commonly used to put out fuel-related fires. This substance has been used for years to put out fires, and studies have shown it is related to several types of cancer. These include testicular, kidney and pancreatic cancers along with other diseases. It has also been implicated in bladder, breast and prostate cancer. Cases of lymphoma and leukemia have also been traced back to aqueous film-forming foam.
Overall, firefighters are two times as likely to develop cancer than people in other jobs due to toxic materials. Colon cancer is also high among firefighters.
Hepatitis Among Firefighters
Firefighters are often the first people on the scene of an accident. These first responders are exposed to blood and other bodily fluids. Due to this exposure, they are more likely to get certain diseases such as hepatitis B and C.
Stress Factors Firefighters Face
Being a firefighter places the person under a great deal of stress. This high-demand job can initiate diseases that are linked to mental health. In addition, stress is a factor in smoking, and smokers may find it more difficult to stop when living a stressful existence.