If you are like me, you're not too old to cut the mustard, but you can't spread it around nearly as far. Aging is a natural (and humbling) process. At a recent departmental annual physical assessment, I had to perform a close rendition (time weighted according to age) of the firefighter combat challenge. I am confident that I do not have any coronary blockage, or I would have surely died during this exercise. I passed, but certainly did not get (or deserve) any blue ribbons. As emergency service responders, we are reminded all too often that the alternative is not good.
According to personal observation and casual conversation among my peers, weight gain, stiffness and a general lack of energy to do anything about it plagues many of us mid-lifers. We are definitely not alone, approximately thirty percent of American adults are considered obese and as many as fifty million of us are on some sort of diet - usually unsuccessfully. The general public is not expected to enter a burning structure or perform strenuous rescue activities. However, as emergency responders, we are.
Statistically, middle-aged firefighters are most likely to die on the fireground. A June 2005 NFPA firefighter fatality report states that 103 line of duty deaths occurred in 2004. The median age of firefighters at the time of death was 47 years of age. The report further states that sudden cardiac death was the leading cause (60%) of death in older firefighters, and more surprisingly, nearly half were aware of a previously known cardiac related condition.
NFPA 1500, which deals with firefighter safety, recognizes the increased danger level for older firefighters and mandates a complete annual physical for firefighters over the age of forty. If you are on the front lines, this is a no-brainer, simply make a doctor's appointment, get a checkup and follow the doctor's advice - it could save your life! You still want to be able to cut the mustard, even if it's at a reduced level.
Dave Murphy retired as Assistant Chief of the Richmond (KY) Fire Department. He is currently an Assistant Professor in the Fire & Safety Engineering Technology program located at The University of North Carolina at Charlotte. He also serves as the Health & Safety Officer for the Harrisburg (NC) Fire Department. He is a technical committee member on NFPA 610 which deals with safety at motorsports venues and also serves as Eastern Director for the Fire Department Safety Officers Association.