Photos courtesy Frank E. Vaerewyck
By Todd LeDuc
At a recent large fire service gathering, a national group was convened with the focus of continuing to advocate for more widely accessible and accepted fire service-appropriate medical screenings. Much work has been done to establish minimum baseline standards with National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standards, the creation of the International Association of Fire Chief’s (IAFC) Health Care Providers Guide to Firefighter Physicals, and the IAFC Roadmap to Wellness, to highlight some key landmarks. There was much discussion as to how many United States firefighters currently are receiving physicals and how many are not. One 2016 survey conducted by the IAFC reported that only 45 percent of volunteer firefighters and 80 percent of career firefighters received an occupational medical physical. These numbers perhaps have a bias of survey research, as there were a limited number of respondents, and may not represent the entirety of the estimated 1.2 million firefighters within the United States. But using these estimates at a “big picture” view of the “state of the union” means only about half of American firefighters get an occupationally appropriate medical exam, while the remaining half are not receiving appropriate medical screenings.
With much national discussion and focus of occupational threats to the health, safety and survival of American firefighters–cardiovascular issues, cancer, and behavioral health – one has to be concerned that it would appear many of our firefighters are not receiving a fire service physical to detect early preventable health issues. This stark reality struck me recently at this same national gathering, when a prominent fire service leader discussed how his volunteer department is requiring physicals after being fortunate to apply for and receive funding for them from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Assistance to Firefighter Grants (AFG) program. This same fire service leader was asked how his department was going to sustain these physicals after the grant funding expired. His response? “We hold three chicken fundraiser dinners. I know, three chicken dinners and I have physicals paid for.” Such an eloquent statement of simplicity – physicals are a priority for this department and they will do whatever is necessary to provide them- thereby assuring their members early detection and subsequent reduction of occupation disease fatality and disability.
It has also been reported that only a very small percentage of FEMA AFG grant dollars are attributed to assistance with physicals by the requesting fire departments. If we as a national fire service are to truly make a dent in reducing and eliminating preventable occupation death and disability, it must start with elevating the priority of providing appropriate regular medical evaluation and screenings for each and every member of the United States fire service.
So if three chicken dinners and annual exams can work for fire service physicals can work in one volunteer fire department, what are you and your department doing in your neck of the woods?
Todd J. LeDuc, MS, CFO, FIFirE, is an executive assistant chief with and a 28-year veteran of Broward County (FL) Fire Rescue, aninternationally accredited career metro department. He has a master’s degree in executive fire service leadership, is a credentialed chief fire officer, and is a Fellow in the Institute of Fire Engineers. LeDuc is a peer reviewer for professional credentialing and agency accreditation. He speaks and publishes articles frequently; serves on numerous editorial and advisory boards; and has conducted more than 50 fire department evaluations, master and strategic plans, and feasibility studies on three continents. He can be reached at email@example.com.