Inspection Time! The Importance of an Annual Firefighter Physical

by | December 6, 2023

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

So said Benjamin Franklin — inventor, diplomat, Founding Father, signer of the Declaration of Independence, and … firefighter. In 1736, Franklin helped establish Philadelphia’s Union Fire Company, which served as a model for other volunteer departments throughout the Colonies. In addition to bifocals and the lightning rod, you might say Franklin “invented” the fire service.

One thing that is common in the fire service is inspections. We perform business inspections, brush compliance inspections and fire extinguisher inspections. We inspect hazardous materials and special occupancies such as schools and hospitals. We do daily inspections on our apparatus and equipment, with weekly inspections while running our rigs’ pumps and aerial ladders. All these inspections are prevention measures to protect lives, property and the environment in the communities we serve.

Unfortunately, many of us are falling short of performing the very inspections that can protect our own lives. Allow me to explain.

Ever feel like your personal “check engine light” is always on?

Homes, Cars, Firehouses

Before you buy a used vehicle, it’s wise to have a qualified mechanic conduct an inspection. If the car has faulty brakes or a major problem with the transmission, you’ll want to know, right? The truth can help you avoid making a costly—or even deadly—mistake. The truth protects us.

Your car needs periodic maintenance to ensure it is safe for you to drive and to avoid costly repairs by staying on top of things. Equally important is inspecting your home for potential problems such as roof leaks, foundation cracks, basement mold, HVAC system issues, and so forth. Catching small problems before they become big problems can save you thousands of dollars in the long run.

In the fire service, we have annual chiefs’ inspections of our fire stations: PPE, apparatus and equipment. Once a year, personnel scramble to get ready for the chief’s inspection day. The chief and their command staff go over everything with a fine-toothed comb. After the inspection, it’s important not to go back to overlooking details that were inspected on this day.

Want to know more about Cordico, Lexipol’s wellness solution?

Physical “Inspections”

Perhaps the most important “inspection” for you, personally, is your annual firefighter physical. Annual physicals, like vehicle or equipment inspections, verify that your body’s systems are working properly, helping to keep you safe and avoid costly repairs “down the road.”

While there can be a great degree of variability in what gets checked during an annual physical, you should expect the following:

  • Height, weight, body mass index (BMI)
  • Hearing, vision, blood pressure, heart rate
  • Ear, nose and throat function
  • Blood testing for cholesterol, thyroid and diabetes
  • For men, a prostate exam
  • For women, a breast exam

Ever feel like your personal “check engine light” is always on? A yearly exam can catch small problems that could develop into larger issues if left unchecked. Annual firefighter physicals help make certain your motor (heart) is running efficiently. The blood tests can help detect changes that point to the need for behavioral or medication-based adjustments to keep illnesses at bay.

Your department may require you to get an annual firefighter physical as a condition of your employment; some states may also mandate yearly checkups by law. Regardless of legal or policy requirements, it’s your responsibility to make sure you get a yearly checkup. When possible, exams should be performed by a doctor familiar with the specific health issues common to firefighters.

Mental “Inspections”

Mental health is as important as physical health. As first responders, we are exposed to a lot of traumatic events, which take their toll on our psyches in different ways. We all know that more firefighters die from suicide than in the line of duty, so maintaining mental and emotional wellness is obviously paramount. One way to maintain your mental well-being as a firefighter is by having regular visits with a qualified mental health professional.

Another way firefighters are improving their mental hygiene is through technology such as Lexipol’s Cordico app. In it, you’ll find quizzes with simple questions that (like warning lights on a car) can serve as early notice that we might need some “mental maintenance.” Doing so can prevent stress, reduce wear and tear, and prevent breakdown of our emotional and mental well-being.

Inspections as Culture

With the end of the year fast approaching, there’s no better time to get a proper personal inspection, both body and mind. Put a reminder in your phone so you remember to make your firefighter physical a yearly process. Remind your coworkers and subordinates about the importance of these health inspections. You might save a life.

So, schedule your annual firefighter physical today, and reach out to a mental health pro to get your “checkup from the neck up.” Then make it a yearly thing, so your mind and body can stay healthy throughout your entire career.

SAM DIGIOVANNA is a 35-year fire service veteran. He started with the Los Angeles County Fire Department, served as Fire Chief at the Monrovia Fire Department, and currently serves as Chief at the Verdugo Fire Academy in Glendale. He is also a Senior Consultant for Lexipol’s Cordico wellness solution.

More Posts
Share this post:

The Briefing – Your source for the latest blog articles, leadership resources and more