The recent 2021 Firefighter Safety Stand Down Week highlighted critical safety, health and survival issues for fire and emergency medical personnel. This year’s theme, “Rebuilding Rehab,” addressed one of the most important aspects of firefighter post-incident rehabilitation: mitigating heat stress.
Firefighters work in high-heat conditions and personal protective equipment (PPE) carries a high-heat burden. Exposure to extreme heat situations usually occurs in limited, short doses for most firefighters but the effects of high heat on personnel are cumulative. Extreme heat from environmental conditions adds significantly to the risk of heat-related health emergencies.
Aside from the acute risks of heat exhaustion and heat stroke, heat stress causes stress on the cardiovascular system. The leading cause of firefighter line-of-duty deaths is sudden cardiac events. Research suggests that heat stress is a causal factor in cardiac illness for firefighters and may contribute to the likelihood of a sudden cardiac event in those with underlying heart conditions.
It’s important for firefighter health and wellness to:
- Perform adequate fitness testing.
- Limit the length of time firefighters are exposed to heat.
- Provide medical monitoring and effective cooling during post-incident rehabilitation.
The USFA’s Emergency Incident Rehabilitation manual will help your department create or update your firefighter rehabilitation program to ensure it incorporates all methods available to mitigate heat stress in firefighters. The International Association of Fire Fighters partnered with the USFA to enhance the manual with additional job aids and training resources, including instructional materials for Firefighter Rehabilitation at Emergency Scenes and Training Exercises, a list of Recommended Minimum Rehab Supplies to Be Carried On Various Apparatus, and specifications for rehab vehicles.