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REHAB 101: Taking Care of America’s Heroes on the Fire Ground

by LR Swenson
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   Many incidents require Firefighters to exert a high level of energy, and often they must give concentrated, undivided, and focused attention to every little detail out on the fireground. While Firefighters work to tap the burning inferno or a save an injured or ill patient, they only focus on that task. The Command staff is in charge of everything else in support of the Firefighter, including resources on scene. In the eight years I have been working as a volunteer with an agency which responds with fire crews to major incidents, I have provided countless hours to rehabbing many responders on the fire ground. It just seemed like the normal way to do business for all Fire Departments to have a rehab unit on the scene in support of an incident. However, that is not the case. In speaking with many agencies, it appears that some departments treat rehab as merely an afterthought several hours into the fire scene, and some think there simply is no need for it. In some places, the rehab function is unknown to the agency. Because of the demands on the Firefighter in the fire suppression world, rehab should be a priority.

   Firefighters are considered by many in a community to be amazing athletes as well as assets to the Fire Departments or agencies they work or volunteer for. The physical demands of firefighting are not unlike the physical demands on a runner in a marathon or another endurance sport. They need replenishment for their bodies to function in top form. “Rehab” for your responders doesn’t have to be an inconvenience for your department or agency. A designated location, Rehab, can simply be setup on scene (upwind) from the incident, near your medic or aid unit, with chairs for Firefighters to sit down and relax for a few minutes with plenty of cold water, clear liquids (Gatorade is a great product), and healthy proteins. These guys and gals are like professional athletes and should be rehabbed as such.

   Statistics from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show 4,325 Firefighters killed on the job between 1977 and 2011. The National Fire Protection Association estimates over 30,000 fireground injuries in 2011 alone. According to the U.S. Fire Administration, 56.5% of Firefighter fatalities reported in 2012 were caused by “Stress/Overexertion.”

   Check out a published article dated 12/10/2007 by Mike McEvoy, “Making Rehab a Requirement: NFPA 1584.” This article provides great recommendations to integrate this much-needed resource in your SOPs. It explains the purpose of fire rehab and how it benefits your Firefighters as a whole. Experience has shown this resource has saved many lives. Along the way you are keeping the tradition of taking care of America’s heroes on the fireground.

   Fire rehab should be integrated with all responding units, whether it is a quick incident or long-term. Some cities have firefighters that provide this invaluable resource; others, such as the City of Seattle, has a non-profit organization staffed with volunteers who respond to structure fires, HAZMAT incidents, water jobs, and confined space rescues. The list of response types goes on. Volunteers have been taking care of these heroes since the inception of fire rehab in 1964, with many donating thousands of hours,bonding with firefighters, and becoming part of the fire family.

Writer Lisa Swenson, a Washington State resident, is the author of several Public Safety short stories, including Seattle Mourn and The Firefighter and The Princess, as well as the creator of The NW Fire Blog, an online publication for firefighters, EMS personnel and First Responders.

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