Imagine being on a call, with your entire crew counting on you, and you are physically unable to perform at your best. Or worse, you have a medical emergency or cardiac event during critical operations. These scenarios put your crew and the people you are protecting in jeopardy. With heart attack the leading cause of on-duty deaths, and many firefighters suffering from heart-related illnesses such as diabetes and high blood pressure, it is critically important that as a firefighter you take care of your health so you can be there for those who depend on you.
February is American Heart Month, and now is the time to assess what you can do to make sure your heart is strong enough for the rigours of emergency response. There are many steps you can take to improve your health. First, you have to know your health. Make sure you know where you stand by consulting with your doctor about your risk factors, including weight, blood pressure, cholesterol, and glucose levels. Let your doctor know you are a firefighter or EMT, and follow recommended schedules for physicals and health screenings. The NVFC has adopted a position supporting annual medical assessments for all firefighters. Provide the IAFC’s Healthcare Provider’s Guide to Firefighter Physicals as a resource for your physician.
Focus on your health year round by incorporating functional fitness into your routine, eating a healthy diet, maintaining a healthy weight, and managing your risk factors. Improving your heart health will not only lessen your risks of heart attack and other heart-related illnesses, it will also make you feel better and strengthen your abilities as a firefighter or EMT.
Get the entire department involved by starting a department health and wellness program. With a heart attack, the leading cause of line-of-duty deaths and obesity an epidemic in the fire service, encouraging all personnel to focus on health and fitness will have a positive effect on your entire department.
The NVFC provides many tools and resources through the Heart-Healthy Firefighter Program to help you get healthy and serve strong. These include the following:
- Resources for starting and implementing a health and wellness program in your fire/EMS department
- Health and Wellness Advocate Workshop to train personnel to start a department health and wellness program and motivate their fellow responders to focus on health and fitness
- Information on heart health, fitness, nutrition, and lifestyle choices
- Fitness demonstration videos of exercises you can do using equipment at the station and targeting the muscle groups you use as a firefighter
- Health and wellness monthly challenges to help motivate your department
- Online training courses to educate first responders about important health and wellness topics
- Securing Sponsors for Department Health and Wellness Programs, a toolkit for finding funding to support a wellness program in your department
- Heart-Healthy Firefighter Cookbook featuring tasty yet healthy recipes submitted by firefighters from across the country
- Smoking cessation resources to keep your heart and lungs strong
- Success stories from first responders from across the country who have succeeded in getting heart healthy