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Kevin Quinn, chair of the National Volunteer Fire Council, shares his personal experience about the vital importance of annual physical exams.


Fitness and nutrition have always been a priority to Kevin Quinn, chair of the National Volunteer Fire Council (NVFC) and the recently retired deputy fire chief of the Union Fire District in South Kingston, Rhode Island. He’s fit and active in his personal life, and consistently implemented those priority within his department. So when Quinn had his annual firefighter physical last August, he was pretty surprised to learn that he needed quadruple bypass surgery.

“The fire service saved my life,” said Quinn at a presentation at today’s health and safety forum, which focused on the health issues facing firefighters and the efforts underway to address them. Quinn says that by getting an annual medical exam and detecting his cardiac issues early, he was able to get the treatment he needed to be alive and healthy today.

Todd LeDuc, assistant chief of technical services at the Broward County, Florida, Sheriff’s Office, reinforced the extreme importance of annual physicals for firefighters, pinpointing the high level of physical fitness firefighters need to do their jobs safely. “Firefighters need to perform as high-performance, tactical athletes,” said LeDuc. More precisely, they need to perform at 12.6 “mets”. That means they need to be physically fit enough to run at 6.5 miles per hour at a 4.6 incline on a treadmill. In reality, studies show that firefighters are more obese than the rest of the population, with the average firefighter gaining three pounds per year.

Todd LeDuc, assistant chief of technical services at the Broward County, Florida, Sheriff’s Office, reinforced the extreme importance of annual physicals for firefighters.

LeDuc went on to address other risk factors firefighters face, including exposure to toxins and chemicals, and increased risk to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). “Firefighters have lots of stressors that they often struggle to cope with, which sets them up for excess risk,” said Le Duc, noting that rates of binge drinking are much higher among firefighters compared to the rest of the population.


In the end, both Quinn and LeDuc’s main message focused on the importance of firefighters doing all they can to stay healthy, with annual exams serving as a key way to identify health issues early and treat them effectively.


“This issue is consuming the fire service,” Boston Fire (BFD) Commissioner Joe Finn told a crowd of more than 200 firefighters, fire leaders and EMS professionals in attendance at the First Responder Health Forum at NFPA Conference & Expo®  in Boston today. 

Finn spoke about his department’s efforts to engage all who will listen about the topic of firefighter cancer. He shared with the vested audience Boston’s efforts to stop the surge in firefighter cancer in his city and nationally. Finn estimates that 67% of BFD will have a cancer diagnosis in their lifetime. On average the Commissioner receives word about a cancer diagnosis every 2-3 weeks. “In May alone, we had two diagnoses.” 

The Boston fire leader told first responders in the room that “this job comes with a level of personal responsibility."  And he was direct and clear when he stated ”it is incumbent upon management and labor to make a difference.” 

Over the past three years, with the support of Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, IAFF's Rich Paris, local department brass, and his line firefighters, Finn has put a full court press on to educate brethren, policy makers, and the general public about the toll that cancer is taking within the ranks of his department. He showed BFD’s video about cancer during his opening remarks, pausing to let the names of all those who have succumbed to cancer scroll slowly up the screen at the end. Midway through his session, he ran a BFD follow up video about accountability on the job; and he ended his presentation with a clip from Good Morning America showing how little time it takes for fires to flashover today due to synthetics and new design.

Boston is working hard to update its firehouses – some of which date back to the Civil War. On average, Boston firehouses are 76 years old. Thanks to a $500 thousand investment this year by Mayor Walsh and another $500 available if needed, efforts are currently underway to remove carcinogens in the city’s firehouses. Each structure is being deep-cleaned, fire groups are temporarily being relocated, and soft goods such as beds and living space furniture are being replaced. Finn believes the efforts will go a long way. Boston has also installed industrial cleaning machinery so that firefighters can clean their PPE after each fire. The Last Call Foundation and the Gary Sinise Foundation graciously underwrote these costs.


Finn and BFD are certainly not alone in their efforts to combat cancer in the fire service. They recognize there have been mistakes made in their department and in other jurisdictions across the country when it comes to firefighter health and wellness. Finn, his leadership team, those on the front line, union officials and even the Hub's impressive medical and research community are coming together to change culture and cancer outcomes in Boston and beyond.


On the 70th anniversary of the Cocoanut Grove fire a few years back, three survivors told NFPA their stories. Ann Marie Gallagher was a 16-year-old girl from New Hampshire who was in Boston with her family, and was one of the survivors who we featured in the video above. Her parents, her boyfriend, and his father were among the 492 people the fire killed. Today's Boston Globe shares Ann Marie's story as she recently passed away on May 24th at age 90 from complications of a fall. 


Also today, during NFPA Conference & Expo, Casey Grant led an education session on the unsolved mystery of the Cocoanut Grove fire to a jam-packed room of intrigued attendees. Casey shared information on how fast the fire spread through the entire building, some of the existing theories on it's ignition source, and the fire modeling exercises that students from Worcester Polytechnic University have conducted over the last several years to piece together information from the historic fire that has been helping to determine what happened, and what may or may not have made a difference that night. all of the information Casey has been able to collect and synthesize can be found on a newly created website, for others to review. He keeps an open call for missing data that will help complete the picture as well. 


Download Casey's slide presentation (PDF) from the Conference website. 



AT the first session this morning, Steve Griffith and Jack Lyons from NEMA reviewed the Association's strategic initiatives related to the internet of things. Steve showed the projected growth of interconnected devices to 40 billion by 2019. He focused on the architectural structure of IoT - describing system networks, technology protocols and relevant standards for various markets. The list of IoT applications in the home is growing rapidly- think appliance and HVAC controls and lighting- including your living room curtains control. My sense from listening to the presentation is that the commercial and associated standards development that are behind this movement are much deeper than I had thought. Jack then connected this to our world of fire and electrical codes. He painted the picture of a lighting device as an energy saving system, a fire detector, a motion sensor to support evacuation strategies and a communicator. This opens up so many opportunities to increase safety - if we can connect this capability to other safety systems. This is our challenge going forward- to enable this communication through standards. 

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