Firefighter health, wellness and fitness

Cancer | Sleep deprivation | Respiratory diseases | Volunteers | Wellness/Fitness Initiative

If you are a firefighter looking for tips to improve your overall health and fitness, or a fire department leader developing or enhancing a wellness-fitness program, these resources can help.

Cancer among firefighters

We are working with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health on a research project to clarify the relationship between firefighter occupational exposures and cancer.

Current (third) study phase

In this phase of the study, we will explore indepth the health records of the approximately 30,000 firefighter study participants using an exposure surrogate metric (an indirect indicator of a disease state) to increase the accuracy of cancer risk estimates. Examples of exposure metrics might include number of fire-runs and time at a fire. We will also examine the relationship between occupational exposures and the specific causes of firefighter deaths from cancer.

First study phase

After examining mortality patterns and cancer incidence among a group of U.S. career firefighters, researchers found that:

Second study phase

In the second phase, researchers found that lung cancer and leukemia mortality risks were modestly increasing with firefighter exposures. These findings add to evidence of a causal association between firefighting and cancer. However, the slight – but statistically significant – positive exposure-responses call for cautious interpretation.

Learn more about our firefighter cancer study and research findings

See also: Recommended actions related to reducing the known risk of cancer in firefighters (The InterAgency Board, June 2016)

Effects of sleep deprivation

It can be difficult for on-duty firefighters and emergency responders to get a good night’s rest. Being immediately awoken to attend calls during the night can result in sleep deprivation.

The U.S. Fire Administration teamed up with the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC), and faculty from Oregon Health and Science University, to study the effects of sleep deprivation on members of the fire and emergency services.

Learn more about the study’s findings in a report and training videos on the IAFC website, including:

Respiratory diseases

Respiratory diseases remain a significant health issue for firefighters and emergency responders. The U.S. Fire Administration teamed with the International Association of Fire Fighters to study occupational risks of respiratory diseases due to fireground exposures and direct contact with the public.

The manual “Respiratory Diseases and the Fire Service,” PDF 6.1 MB helps firefighters and other emergency responders to understand diseases of the respiratory system, their causes and how to prevent them. It also assists health and wellness program managers in recognizing and quantifying the impact of, and developing strategies and programs for, occupational respiratory disease for firefighters, their families and fire departments.

Health and wellness for the volunteer fire service

The volunteer fire service has its own distinct issues related to health and safety. Critical Health and Safety Issues in the Volunteer Fire Service (December 2016) identifies resources, provides references, suggests tools, illustrates best practices, and establishes goals and objectives for each issue to help departments improve firefighter safety, well-being and survival.

Focus areas include:

Download or order the report

Project sponsors: National Volunteer Fire Council and USFA.

See also: Health and Wellness Guide for the Volunteer Fire and Emergency Services” PDF 2.1 MB, February 2009

Wellness/Fitness Initiative

The IAFC/IAFF Fire Service Joint Labor Management Wellness/Fitness Initiative (WFI), a project sponsored by the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) and the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC), is dedicated to developing a stronger fire service, starting with well and fit firefighters. Information is collected from fire departments in the United States and Canada to determine best practices and programs for committing to a wellness-fitness program.

Projects under the Initiative supported through funding from the U.S. Fire Administration include:

Recommended for fire departments: WFI Resource

The WFI Resource was developed by the IAFF and the IAFC under the Fire Service Joint Labor Management Wellness-Fitness Initiative.

The WFI Resource lets you search for successful wellness-fitness programs that you can learn from by fire department city and these Initiative components:

Tools and ideas used by fire departments to justify costs and evaluate and implement a wellness-fitness program are also included.

More information on firefighter health, fitness and wellness