December Roundtable: Mandatory Medical Monitoring for Firefighters

By John "Skip" Coleman

At one time, when I was a line firefighter and officer, I smoked more than three packs a day. There were a few times in my career that I can recall being taken to the hospital for smoke inhalation (remember, this was prior to any mandatory self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) policy in my department.) As I waited to the ambulance for transport, I would have another cigarette! 

How things have changed. I quit smoking cold turkey in 1988. I wrote the mandatory SCBA policy--which still is in effect--for our department that same year. Later, we amended the policy to state that in addition to the mandatory use of SCBA, firefighters are now required to go to rehabafter the use of two SCBA bottles at one fire. This was also mandatory.

Still, at that time we knew little of the harm that smoke and its byproducts were doing to us. We all  know firefighting is not only dangerous but also physically demanding. Every fire takes a toll on our bodies. Some departments now are requiring mandatory medical monitoring after every working fire. Blood pressures, pulse, respirations, blood oxygen levels using a pulse oximeter, etc. are examples of what is monitored.

That brings me to this month's Roundtable question. Does your department require mandatory medical monitoring of any sort for firefighters immediately after a working fire or other stressful incident? Register and log in to the Fire Engineering Web site and leave your comments below.

Skip ColemanJohn "Skip" Coleman retired as assistant chief from the Toledo (OH) Department of Fire and Rescue. He is a technical editor of Fire Engineering; a member of the FDIC Educational Advisory Board; and author of Incident Management for the Street-Smart Fire Officer (Fire Engineering, 1997), Managing Major Fires (Fire Engineering, 2000), and Incident Management for the Street-Smart Fire Officer, Second Edition (Fire Engineering, 2008).

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