Deep Fried Firefighters

The scenes from the movie Backdraft were undoubtedly some of the coolest images brought to life for the nation’s fire service. The movie, circa 1991, gave current firefighters swagger and influenced countless men and women to change the course on their career paths with the hopes of being the next Brain McCaffrey working on Ladder 17.

The images and rescues on the big screen, now nearly three decades old, have emblazoned images in our minds and solidified an already strong culture of bravado that existed in the fire service for nearly two centuries. As a result of these images and two centuries of brotherly culture, a more recent conversation of something out there killing firefighters that’s proving to be more dangerous than the fires themselves: cancer. Our modern style of living in the comfort of our home furnishings of iPads and flat-screens, when set ablaze, can give off levels of hydrogen cyanide which is 35 times more toxic than carbon monoxide. The biggest form of exposure that still exists for firefighters, their skin.

Have you ever wondered why the Colonel’s chicken tastes so good? Putting those drumsticks and wings in a pressurized fryer forces those delicious, and highly secret, 11 herbs and spices into the chicken parts. The result, as we all know, gives the chicken a very moist inner texture and crisp outer skin that has made this recipe unbeatable for decades.

Apply this same science to your average firefighter who’s taken an oath to protect and serve communities across the country and the results are not as exciting. A firefighter’s attire protects them from thermal burns with an outer shell. Their airway is protected with the breathing apparatus. But there are many “chinks in the armor” when it comes to protecting a firefighters skin. Just like those drumsticks, the environment firefighters enter into is highly pressurized and super-heated, forcing toxins into the skin of your local hero as they make sure everyone got out of the house when the smoke detector sounded.

The pressure cooker: The brave firefighter in this image shows his grime as a badge of courage after the battle. The environment he just experienced is surprisingly similar to what those the drumsticks experienced.

The fire service has to come to the intersection of common sense and a new level of cool very soon. The science is already proven. Firefighters are already dying. For the next generation of young firefighters who just earned the badge, time is still on your side. Before they enter a 30 year career of back-breaking, pressure cooking experiences, different images of heroics need to enter into the slide-tray.

The new cool firefighter should be one that works in clean gear on a daily basis. This includes their helmet, their hood, and all of their gear that adorns them. “After the fire” policy during the overhaul phase should mandate that everyone keeps their masks on while still entering the cold smoke environment. Fire departments across the country are beginning to catch on with this trend, but it can’t happen fast enough.

Another study that is slowly changing some fire stations is sweat therapy. It is proven that sweating out toxins by use of a sauna can eliminate up to 20% of toxins from your body. After continued use for four months, the sweat therapy can reduce up to 16 toxins at a rate of 42%. The practice is this; firefighters get back to the station after battling the demon. They clean their gear, re-load the hose, and instead of hitting the shower, they hit the fire station sauna. They sweat out the toxins that are still on their skin before they can sink any deeper into their pores and enter their adipose tissue (that’s medical terminology for fat). A quick shower follows and the local hero is now ready for the next sound of the bell and for a longer healthier career of service.

Firehouse saunas? It will undoubtedly make your local government administrator cringe, but we have to let them know that it can save millions by eliminating presumptive cancers in the future.

Running into burning buildings and saving kittens out of trees will always be a job that has inherent risks. The job will take its toll on even the finest of human specimens. Accepting that clean is cool, and dirty helmets don’t equal experience has to be the new norm. Accept the challenge and live longer to serve longer.