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Right Answer to Rehab

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Firefighting is tough work.  There are a lot of jobs out there that require physical work, construction, landscaping, and loading trucks is hard physical work.  Long hours of physical labor can wear you down.  One difference between a construction worker and a firefighter is that firefighters put on protective bunker gear that is like wearing a winter snow suit. After we put on that snow suit, we go into a burning building to make us even hotter. Hard work, hot conditions, long hours, and wearing a snow suit is not a comfortable combination.

When we had a big fire in the past, we would just find the guys that had worked their butt off and tell them to take a breather.  Most of the macho firefighters would say “I’m fine” and then go back to work.  It was rare that anyone would get any medical evaluation, and rehab at a big fire just meant that the Chief ordered up a bunch of greasy cheeseburgers and fries from McDonalds.  Eating that food isn’t a good idea, especially after working a fire, sounds as healthy as smoking a cigar.

In 2003, the NFPA released the first official policy regarding firefighter rehab.  Today most departments have their own rehab procedures, and none of them include cheeseburgers and fries.  Today when a firefighter goes to rehab, it is almost like a visit to the family doctor. Vital signs are taken and charted.  It is common for a trip through rehab to keep you out of the fire for at least fifteen minutes.  Being on the sidelines while a fire is going on is very frustrating to almost every firefighter.

One of the most serious things that happens to your body when you put on your bunker gear, go into a burning building and work hard is that you sweat, you sweat a lot. When you sweat that much the amount of fluid in your blood decreases. When that amount of fluid decrease, it in turn causes the amount of sugar in your blood to increase.  When your body senses a high sugar level insulin is released to use up that excess sugar.  So what has happened is that you worked hard, and tricked your body into using up extra sugar and energy.  That is not what you want when you need to go back to work.

The best way to prevent that loss of fluid is by drinking water. If you are well hydrated, you won’t be as likely to suffer from that sugar spike.  It sounds easy to say drink water, but when you get a call you don’t really have time to run to the sink to get hydrated.  There is a simple way to help with your hydration.  I always keep a water bottle with my bunker gear, on the way to the call unless you are driving you will have time to drink some of that water, if not the whole bottle.

Firefighters need to understand the importance of rehab, and why we need to monitor vitals, and stay hydrated.  When rehab is treated as a mandatory evil, it will not be accepted by firefighters.  Educate, hydrate, and understand what rehab is all about.

By John Morse

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