Firefighters, quite accurately, go through fire and water to protect others. These public servants put their lives on the line every day, be it domestic fires, blazing buildings, or a wildfire inferno.
Thus, personnel in this industry face several risks in their line of work, which are often fatal. The U.S. has already lost 22 firefighting heroes in the line of duty, although it’s not just the physical injuries that threaten them.
Here are the many problems that trouble both permanent and voluntary firefighters in the U.S.:
What Challenges Do Firefighters Face?
The work of a firefighter is never easy, and for many, work stress follows home affecting their health and personal lives. These are the main issues:
Firefighters have to perform daunting tasks, often in challenging environments. And this has both short-term and long-term health implications. Burns, bruises, and other work injuries are common, but they suffer more than just these.
Firefighters have a high risk of getting diagnosed with life-threatening illnesses. These include heart diseases and other pulmonary complications as a result of massive exposure to toxic gases and chemicals. Other than these, there are also risks of Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C if they come in contact with infected blood while performing their duties.
There is also the risk of cancer, tragically caused by the PFAs (per or poly-fluoroalkyl substances) or forever chemicals in their protective suits and the firefighting foam they use. Studies show that AFFF (Aqueous Film Forming Foam), a variant of forever chemicals, can cause deadly forms of cancer in fighters as they are exposed to it regularly.
After the revelation that AFFF is indeed harmful, plaintiffs across the U.S. are suing manufacturers such as 3M, Dupont, and others in an AFFF lawsuit.
Among the many law firms helping these plaintiffs in this legal battle is TorHoerman Law, LLC. Their website mentions the categories of personnel that can be most affected. These are the people fighting fires with AFFF in places such as airports, chemical manufacturing, and petroleum plants.
PFAS and AFFF are also harmful to non-firefighting personnel exposed to them, even in low amounts. While the use of AFFF has been reduced, this wouldn’t be of any use to those already injured.
The lawsuits and the possibility of claiming damages are a more practical remedy. Firefighting foam attorneys and law firms, therefore, have a huge responsibility to the victims.
Mental Trauma and Stress
One may think that firefighting may not be as traumatizing as active service in the military, but think again. The nature of their work makes firefighters go through traumatizing experiences. This affects their mental health and causes illnesses like PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).
Moreover, certain situations demand overwork, which leads to stress, fatigue, suicidal tendencies, and other undesirable conditions. The more dangerous the situation, the higher the possibility of firefighters fighting lengthy battles and falling physically and mentally ill.
The mental harm that firefighters receive also has a profound impact on their lifestyle and psychological as well as physical health. For instance, heavy smoking, alcohol, and substance abuse are conditions induced by stress that a majority of the personnel struggle with.
Poor mental health leads them to develop poor eating and sleeping habits, among others, that are only worse for physical well-being. This is, of course, over and above the physical injuries that firefighters suffer from.
One doesn’t have to be an expert to realize the serious implications these can have in the personal lives and emotional health of these individuals.
Firefighters Play An Indispensable, But Under-Appreciated Role
Be it in the U.S. or any other country on Earth, firefighters save lives every day, risking their own. However, one can argue that they do not get paid enough for their sacrifices, and they wouldn’t be wrong.
The average salary of a firefighter in the U.S. is around $55,000, a 2021 study mentions. The exact salaries differ from state to state and whether an individual is a permanent staff or a volunteer in the fire service. Nevertheless, most are underpaid, given the risks involved in firefighting.
Because of various factors, including mental and physical stress, the U.S. is struggling to recruit and retain firefighters. Officials are thus advocating and formulating methods to tackle the issue.