firefighters putting out a fire
  • Firefighters Challenges from Physical to Mental Health Issues

  • Published By:
  • Category: Mental Stress
  • Published Date: May 13, 2023
  • Modified Date: May 13, 2023
  • Reading Time: 5 Minutes

Featured Image Caption: Firefighters Putting Out a Fire

Many people dream of becoming firefighters because they get to save lives in this profession. Not to mention, they become part of a team that eventually turns into a family. Firefighters have an innate ability to feel selfless and always work for the greater good.

The occupation might sound rewarding, but it comes with many challenges. For example, firefighters never know if they will leave a mission alive. In Pennsylvania, two firemen died a hero’s death while saving a family from their house fire in December 2022.

Some firefighters also develop Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). In some cases, exposure to firefighting foam leads to cancer and other diseases. Even then, some individuals get inspired by TV shows like Chicago Fire and 9-1-1 that highlight the bravery of first responders.

Do you want to join this career, or are you seeking answers? Either way, this blog will delve deep into the mental and physical challenges every firefighter faces.

Firefighting Foam Exposure: The Biggest Physical Hazard to a Firefighter’s Life

Interviews conducted by PBS have shown that long-term firefighters have a shorter life expectancy. Compared to the average person, these workers have 10 years less to live. It all boils down to exposure to toxic chemicals, leading to health risks.

Some types of firefighting foam or Aqueous Film Forming Foam (AFFF) contain a forever chemical called per-and polyfluoroalkyl or PFAS. This substance includes elements that do not break down in nature. Instead, they seep into the ground and water making it toxic.

Firefighters use AFFF to deal with class B fuel fires at industrial facilities and military bases. This foam is potent as it creates a layer on the fire’s source and cuts off the oxygen supply.

However, the PFAS substance has been classified as carcinogenic that is dangerous for humans.

What Is the AFFF Lawsuit All About?

Currently, thousands of firefighters and their families in America have started to blame these chemicals for their diagnosis. Hence, it has given rise to a firefighting foam cancer lawsuit.

Retired firefighters have found heightened levels of the toxic firefighting foam elements in their blood. According to TorHoerman Law, safer fire suppressants have replaced AFFF. But, in hard-to-control fires, they still use products that contain PFAS due to their effectiveness.

Lawyers are fighting the AFFF lawsuit for the plaintiffs and have already gained settlement amounts of USD 4 billion. TorHoerman Law also suggests that firefighters using products developed by 3M after the 1960s should keep their medical records handy before filing for this claim.

If you want to pursue a career in this, choose a team that does not use PFAS-containing products.

Other Physical Challenges Firefighters Deal With

Physical injury is a primary risk for all firefighters. They have to deal with physical stress due to heat exhaustion and burns on the job.

Their frequent exposure to carbon monoxide also leads to health risks. Some of them include:

Heart Disease and Respiratory Issues

The most common physical infliction would be heart disease and chronic respiratory issues. These issues can occur due to the lack of physical fitness and intense work.

However, you can keep that in check with proper protective gear and a workout. Firefighters should quit smoking cigarettes as it can contribute to heart attacks and lung damage.


In most situations, firefighters are the first responders to medical or fire emergencies. Science Direct says they come into contact with infected blood or bodily fluids while performing their duties. At that time, firefighters do not think about wearing gloves as there can be people trapped or injured who need immediate help.

However, to avoid the contamination of the hepatitis viruses, you can get vaccinated. You can also bathe or thoroughly wash your hands once you return to base.

Dealing With Mental Health Issues: A Concern for Firefighters

Studies by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have highlighted that suicide attempts among firefighters are twice the national average. They are always on the verge of danger, which affects their mental health. You can expect 24-hour shifts with endless calls and missions.

That is why countless workers develop PTSD, stress, depression, and anxiety. You should know how to deal with this unpredictable and hazardous occupation before anything.

Even if fire departments have started regular mental health screenings, firefighters should do these things to enhance mental well-being:

  • Have a strict sleep schedule, prioritize rest to relieve stress, and keep up-to-date about your medical care
  • Eat and drink healthy to have proper physical health, which will ensure that you do not feel anxious
  • Exercise and diversify your life with extracurricular activities to avoid feeling traumatized
  • Try to find a coach or counselor to keep the social interactions consistent, which will help reduce depressive thoughts

Other than these, firefighters should also exercise daily and focus on personal development. Moreover, they should not rely on self-medication or substance abuse.

The Way Forward

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics suggests that firefighters earn USD 52,500 annually on average. Some consider it fair compensation, while others think that they deserve more. However, before judging, you must view all the perks and benefits a firefighter gets.

Examples include medical insurance and job security. Firefighters can also negotiate their wages and get academic scholarships.

Even then, it is up to you to decide if this job can be rewarding for you. Being on the field can lead to physical and mental turmoil, including cancer, hepatitis, stress, and PTSD. There are ways to prevent that, but there is no guarantee.

Examples include wearing protective gear to avoid inhaling smoke and having a proper sleep routine to reduce stress. Indeed, the volatility of a firefighter’s life is scary but exciting and rewarding.

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