Firefighting is a dangerous job. It involves more than just flames. Simply running in and out of structures carries a risk of falling, slamming into something, or having pieces fall down on you. Generally, you can assume that injury is a standard, regular part of the job.
In September of 2021, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) released its annual statistics for firefighter injuries. Using this document, we will discuss some of its findings, focusing on firefighters’ most common injuries and their causes.
- Sprains and Strains
Anyone who regularly runs or moves quickly risks sprains and strains. This is true for a basketball player or a server at a busy restaurant. Twisting the wrong way or simply taking an errant step can lead to injuries.
Firefighters are known for rushing into structures, offering assistance. There is no predicting what will be in their path, especially when a building is on fire. Shelves and beams can break off, littering the ground and obstructing a clear path. Furthermore, firefighters wear heavy equipment that restricts movement, keeping them from nimble, quick action. Sprains and strains are almost inevitable in these scenarios.
Sprains tear or disconnect the tissue that connects bones, and sprains are generally tears or breaks in the tissue that connect a muscle to a bone. Either can produce severe pain. In less extreme cases, sufferers will experience tenderness or weakness in the affected area. Swelling and bruising can occur, and the pain can restrict movement as you heal.
- Smoke Inhalation
Given the nature of their job, it’s no surprise that inhaling smoke is a common problem among firefighters. Luckily, many of the symptoms are acute, or temporary, and they can be handled with proper treatment.
At its most mild, smoke inhalation causes allergy-like symptoms. Sufferers can have a runny nose, itchy eyes, a scratchy throat, and so on. Symptoms become more severe as you inhale more smoke. You could suffer from chest pains, wheezing, shortness of breath, and more.
Inhaling smoke is harmful by itself, but smoke is not the biggest concern. The most dangerous part of smoke inhalation is what may be inside the smoke. In a house fire, flames can send all manner of material upward, causing it to intermingle with the smoke. Some particles can get trapped in a firefighter’s lungs. This could cause permanent lung damage or even death, depending on the particles and how deeply they imbed themselves.
Toxic smoke is another great concern for firefighters. Many normal, household items can release poisons once ignited. What’s worse, it’s not always easy to predict which toxins are released. Cyanide, for example, is particularly difficult to measure. Inhaling toxins can cause neurological damage and, at its worst, can be life-threatening.
- Thermal Burns
A thermal burn happens when skin is exposed to extreme heat. This is, of course, a natural hazard in firefighting. Burns are classified in “degrees.” The higher the degree, the worse the burn.
A first-degree burn harms only the outer layer of the skin. It is not life-threatening, but it does hurt, sometimes badly. With proper treatment, it can clear up well, and it might not leave a scar.
Second-degree burns reach deeper into the second layer of skin. If this layer is only mildly damaged, the burn is still considered second-degree. These burns, therefore, can be mild to severe. When this layer is only marginally affected, the wound can be treated much like a first-degree burn would. However, the damage could reach almost to the other side of the layer, requiring more extensive treatment. The method of treating a burn this deep could be similar to treating a third-degree burn.
Third-degree burns destroy the two top layers and reach into the third. They are very serious, and they can turn brown, yellow, white, or black. Treatment is needed, and it should happen as soon as possible. A third-degree burn may even require surgery.
Fourth-degree burns melt skin away and reach into bones, tendons, organs, and/or muscles. At their worst, they can be life-threatening, and any fourth-degree burn requires serious, immediate attention.
- Cuts or Lacerations
Even with their protective layers of clothing, a firefighter can easily suffer tears in their skin. As they move through a burning environment, jagged, sharp edges may jut out. Through the smoke and bright flames, a firefighter may not see these hazards before it’s too late.
Both cuts and lacerations are tears in the skin. Cuts are generally deemed less severe, and lacerations are considered worse. Cuts may be incisions: straight, clean slices in the skin. Deemed less severe than a laceration, an incision can still be quite painful, and it takes longer to heal. Lacerations are characterized by jaggedness and lack of a clear shape.
A puncture wound could also be considered a cut. The skin may appear to have just a small hole, but whatever entered it traveled down and back up. The penetrating object makes contact with tissue underneath, dragging germs along the inner tissue. Disease and infection can get trapped inside, leading to serious problems later.
The worst cut a firefighter could suffer isn’t a cut at all. If skin peels completely off the tissue underneath, this injury is called an “avulsion.” It requires serious, quick, surgical treatment. When left separated for too long, the skin can die, and it is impossible to reattach. Even when treated on time, an avulsion will likely require skin grafts.
Firefighters and Workers’ Comp
As with any high-risk job, firefighters are offered good workers’ comp benefits. Even so, there is always the risk of being denied. Worker’s comp is, after all, an insurance benefit, and insurance companies primarily work for their bottom line and shareholders. They can use almost any justification to deny reasonable, required benefits.
Before submitting your paperwork, allow an attorney to review it for you. They can help you fill in any gaps you may have missed. They are also skilled in creating a reasonable request. They can help with your phrasing, ensuring that your request is solid and difficult to deny. If you are denied, your attorney’s services will be invaluable. They can help you appeal, which is a process similar to a courtroom hearing.
If you need help filing for workers’ comp or appealing a denial, contact our firm today. Our main focus is on workers’ comp, and we can use that skill to help. You can call us at (714) 909-2609 or reach us online.