Firefighters can inhale smoke and a wide range of chemicals that may be present in a burning building. Although the breathing apparatus does a good job of protecting them, it isn’t always worn, especially during the so-called overhaul phase, when firefighters sift through debris to ensure that the fire doesn’t reignite.
Exposure to toxic materials and asbestos is a risk even after the fire is out, and the International Association of Firefighters recommends wearing respiratory protective equipment at all stages of firefighting. LINK
Who would’ve guessed my job would make another top ten list you don’t want to be on? The latest is a no brainer. Firefighting wreaks havoc not only on your lungs, but on your entire body. Your cardio-vascular system especially takes a pounding. I was talking with some of my co-workers over the past week or so and many of us feel the same way. In twenty years or so we may not fight fires the same way anymore. Interior firefighting has become so dangerous that some of us foresee a day when our very basic tactics will change.
The main reason is the overwhelming use of plastics in modern living. Plastics break down quickly under high temperatures and give off deadly, toxic smoke and gasses. The fires also burn hotter causing entire rooms to flash over much more quickly than thirty or forty years ago. Check out the video:
Notice the thick black smoke and how the fire roils through the smoke cloud. That smoke is deadly.
After a recent basement job on a 95 degree day I went home after work. While in the shower I could still smell the plastic odor from the fire. Even though we wear full bunker gear the smoke still penetrates. Your skin absorbs the toxins in the smoke. Burning plastic gives off all manner of carcinogens that slowly poison your system over the years. It’s no wonder it seems like every week we lose guys to Cancer or other fatal illnesses. This last week we learned about another of our Lieutenants diagnosis of Pancreatic Cancer. That comes on the heels of another Lieutenant dying suddenly from a fatal heart attack. Earlier this year a Lieutenant and fire school classmate of mine succumbed to brain Cancer at the age of 48. So many guys being struck down so soon you lose count.
This month Republican Governor Tom Corbett signed a Cancer presumption bill for Pa. Firefighters. Previous governor and eternal scumbag, Democrat Ed Rendell refused to sign it before he left office. (he hates firemen) So much for the myth of democrats being for the little guy. This culminates many years of hard-fought battles to have firefighters who develop job related Cancer covered. Contrary to popular belief after five years of retirement we lose our health benefits. Retired guys typically end up with minimum coverage around the time they are coming down with Cancer. Nice huh?
After nearly twenty years of firefighting I wonder about my own health all the time. Although I am fine now, every time I turn around I lose another co-worker and friend. Still we answer the bell.