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Firefighter Health, Wellness and Fitness

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.


firefighter using a halligan bar in a smokey environment

International study finds that “occupational exposure as a firefighter causes cancer”

An International Agency for Research on Cancer study has reclassified the occupation of firefighting to the highest hazard category: Group 1, “carcinogenic to humans.”

Read the article

Ergonomics and wellness

The Emergency Services Ergonomics and Wellness handbook provides corrective measures that will help to increase the safety of emergency responders, reduce the costs of worker's compensation claims, maximize the longevity of emergency service careers, and assist with sending personnel into healthy retirements.

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 in-depth 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:

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.

More information on firefighter health, fitness and wellness

Suicide prevention resources

The National Wildfire Coordinating Group's Mental Health Subcommittee has developed these messages to highlight hope, resiliency and recovery. Print and post these messages in visible places to encourage open dialog about mental health and wellness.