Firefighters are one of the workers that put their lives on the line for the greater good. Unfortunately, that selflessness comes at the price of their health. Hundreds of firefighters are in the process of filing a class action lawsuit for being exposed to “forever chemicals” that were found in their equipment. Currently, a dozen firefighters in Massachusetts blame the chemicals for their cancer diagnoses.
The firefighters allege heightened levels of the chemicals in their blood, including several current and retired firefighters. The plaintiffs claim they were constantly exposed to these chemicals from firefighting foam and other equipment with PFAS (polyfluoroalkyl substances).
What are common hazards firefighters face on the job?
As unfortunate as it is, this lawsuit is a reflection of only one of the dangers that firefighters are exposed to in their line of work. While it is true some occupations are more dangerous than others, firefighters are exposed to unique hazards.
One of the most common physical hazards firefighters are exposed to are scenarios created by fires. Firefighters are not only at risk of losing their lives and suffering from serious burns. The severity of a fire can cause firefighters to become seriously injured from flashovers or back drafts. Firefighters are also at risk of suffering from smoke inhalation or dying from the collapsed structures of a building.
In addition to the physical hazards, firefighters are at risk of experiencing serious mental health conditions as a result of their line of work. Firefighters are under a large amount of stress, and can develop mental disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Exposure to traumatic situations can cause firefighters to experience depression, generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), and panic disorder.
How these hazards impact the health of firefighters
Because firefighters are more concerned with the physical and mental hazards associated with their line of work, they do not think of the future consequences that their occupation will have on their health. Smoke is not the only dangerous element to which firefighters are exposed. In fact, firefighters are exposed to different types of dangerous chemicals on a daily basis. Being exposed to dangerous chemicals over a long period of time can put firefighters at a greater risk for developing chronic illnesses.
Some of the chronic illnesses that firefighters commonly develop are:
- Chronic respiratory diseases. Firefighters can develop respiratory illnesses like bronchitis and abnormal lung function from constantly being exposed to smoke and other dangerous chemicals. Some firefighters even engage in unhealthy behaviors like smoking in an effort to reduce the stress associated with the job. Constant exposure to these chemicals can significantly affect a firefighter’s respiratory system.
- Cancer. A study in the National Library of Medicine shows “a significant increase in the incidence of rectal, prostate, bladder and testicular cancers as well as mesothelioma and malignant melanoma in firefighters compared to the general population.”
- Hepatitis B and C. Firefighters are one of the first responders in the event of an emergency. Because firefighters are the first workers to respond, they are in danger of coming into contact with contaminated blood or other hazardous situations. This can lead to a diagnosis of hepatitis B and C.
- Heart diseases. Medical News Today reports about 45% of firefighter deaths on the job are due to cardiac events. Responding to fires can take a serious toll on a firefighter’s heart. In addition to being exposed to hot flames and life-threatening scenarios, firefighters are also at risk of hazards like carbon monoxide. The constant exposure to the mental and physical hazards on the job can cause firefighters to experience coronary artery disease and abnormal heart rhythms.
Similar to all workers in the American workforce, firefighters are entitled to workers’ compensation benefits when they are injured in the line of duty. But even though we all understand the inherent risks of the work, that does not mean your claim for benefits will be accepted without complaint. Insurance companies rarely want to pay out claims, even to heroes.
If you have suffered a work-related injury on the job and are having a difficult time securing your compensation benefits, the Maryland attorneys at Plaxen Adler Muncy, PA can help. We represent injured workers throughout the state. Call us today at 410-730-7737, or submit our contact form to schedule a free consultation.
Joshua Plaxen graduated from the University of Maryland, College Park in 2008 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Business, and graduated from the University of Baltimore School of Law in 2012 magna cum laude. He was also inducted into the Heuisler Honor Society for finishing in the top ten percent of his class. During law school, Joshua served on the Executive Board of the University of Baltimore Law Review.