Supporting the Physiological and Psychological Wellbeing of Firefighters
The Fresno Fire Department (FFD) has a comprehensive rehab program that supports the physical and mental wellbeing of its personnel in one of California’s busiest departments. Its 268 career firefighters responded to over 41,000 incidents from its 20 stations in 2020. This includes a record-breaking 5,766 fire calls. In the first months of 2021, FFD has responded to 21,011 calls for service, including 3,441 fire calls – with an unprecedented 650 fire responses in May. The Department has responded to over 500 fire calls in 11 of the last 12 months.
Fresno Fire provides a diverse array of health and safety resources to its 351 sworn and non-sworn personnel – before, during, and after their shifts. Over 90% of firefighters participate in the voluntary Health and Wellness Program that offers comprehensive health screenings, targeted fitness assessments, physical training, and nutrition education. Other resources that support both the mental and physical health of all members include a full-time Occupational Health and Safety Officer, Peer Support Team, and Employee Assistance Program. Critical Incident Stress Management is offered in a dedicated facility shared with a local law enforcement chaplaincy. In 2020, FFD added a 56-hour Safety Officer position that responds 24/7 to all major incidents and is bolstered by a reserve pool of 12 captains.
On-scene firefighter rehab is one of the most visible features of a robust safety program. In addition to having a Safety Officer on all major/multi-unit calls, the Department is supported by a dedicated and highly trained cadre of Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) volunteers who have deployed to support formal rehab on 179 emergent calls since the Rehab Team was established in 2008.
In addition to providing traditional cooling, hydration, and nutrition, the combined FFD/CERT team stays on the leading edge of the cancer prevention mission by facilitating on-scene decontamination. In an innovative effort to allow firefighters and their turnouts to cool simultaneously, the CERT team now deploys racks for hanging turnouts. This allows the gear to cool and off-gas while firefighter core temperature reduction is occurring and medical monitoring is being provided by EMS.
In a region where temperatures are between 80-100°F for much of the year, the team utilizes all standard passive and active cooling resources. In 2018 the Department added six portable Polar Breeze® units that deliver cooled air directly to firefighters’ lungs through hoods and/or hoses, allowing core temperature to drop up to 1°F every two minutes.
Over the past five years the Fresno Fire Department has seen a significant reduction in the number of injuries and illnesses, and the associated human and financial costs. Keeping firefighters safe and in peak condition ensures that everyone goes home and is essential to the mission of providing excellent service to the 540,000 residents of California’s fifth largest city.