Sprains, Strains, and Muscle Injuries

A firefighter lifts a large object during fireground operations.

By Alex Langbell

The leading cause of injury to firefighters on the fireground is sprains, strains, and muscle injuries. It can be extremely tough at times to prevent those injuries because of the nature of our business and the precarious situation one can get themselves into, but some basic, commonsense practices can help prevent or at the very least minimize injury.

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Association, to prevent sprains and strains you need to observe the following certain practices, but as firefighters there are some that we have no control of.

1). “To prevent falls, keep work area clear of clutter.”

Reality: We all know this is impossible with the environment we work in at times, especially if there is limited visibility due to smoke or darkness.

Suggestion: Be prepared for the unexpected. If you can’t see your feet because of smoke, get on your knees. Walk slow and purposefully with knees bent and maintain stability in your legs.

 2) “Avoid strenuous activity on the job when tired.”

Reality: We get tired. That’s what we do. We work until we accomplish our tasks.

Suggestion: Stay focus and know your limitations. Make sure you are in good physical shape to be able to perform your job.

3) “Use extra caution when working on slippery surfaces such as ice or wet floors.”

Reality: This can be very difficult because of outside working conditions and water present at nearly every fire scene.

Suggestion: When possible, use your hands to secure yourself when ascending or descending. Use some sort of traction material to prevent falls on icy surfaces. Make sure your boots have good traction.

RELATED TRAINING: Video: A New Way to Lift | Crawl Before You Walk

4) “Use extra caution when walking across uneven surfaces.”

Reality: We are constantly working on uneven surfaces such as stairwells, ladders, roofs, damaged and cluttered floors, and uneven outside terrain.

Suggestion: Be aware of foot placement and make certain you have a boot that fits and has good ankle support.

5) “Before lifting heavy objects, warm up and stretch if possible.”

Reality: This again is almost impossible. We rarely have time to stretch preparing for physically strenuous activity, especially at three in the morning.

Suggestion: Try and stay in good physical shape and incorporate some sort of stretching exercises into your workout routine.

Basics for lifting heavy objects:

  • Plan your lift by sizing up the object and determining where it’s going
  • Get assistance when lifting heavy objects
  • Carry objects close to your body
  • Lift slow and smooth
  • Avoid twisting your body–turn your body as a whole unit
  • Move heavy objects by pushing or pulling whenever possible. Pushing is always preferred
  • Lift with your legs straight back and your head up

As firefighters, we will always be subjected to these types of injuries more than the average worker. We need to try and prevent these injuries by preparing for them.

Alex Langbell is a captain with the Yakima (WA) Fire Department.


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