Health and wellness
Written by Elias Markou
The other day I was sitting with a firefighter patient who had come to see me for a number of health concerns. I was putting together the best possible vitamin regime for this patient when it occurred to me that I tell every firefighter to ensure they have a steady source of magnesium.
Written by Sara Wegwitz, Dave Cockle, Ken Gill
Editor’s note: Oak Bay Fire Department’s holistic wellness plan was introduced in the November edition of Fire Fighting in Canada. The February article represents the first in a five-part series that takes an in-depth look at the program and how the facets can be successfully implemented.
Written by Nick Halmasy
I remember my first significant call. We all do. Or, well, pieces of it. It’s like rummaging through an old pile of photos out of sequence. I don’t remember which month it was, but I remember that the air was cold. The call came into the station; someone was hit by a train. As we raced to the scene, my mind raced through those same thoughts that many first responders have. I wondered what I was about to see. Will there be blood and gore? Am I cut out for this?
Written by Elias Markou
Poor sleep is bad news for firefighters. After combing through the latest research on sleep deprivation, poor sleep and insomnia, I decided to write this column on sleep and review some sleep-improving strategies for firefighters.
Written by Dave Cockle, Sara Wegwitz, and Ken Gill
The employer plays a significant role in supporting the health and well-being of our most important asset – our firefighters. Fire chiefs manage the fire department assets through business plans, strategic and operational plans, as directed by the municipal council or regional district.
Written by Gord Schreiner
I recently attended a conference at which someone asked me what I thought was the most important part of my job. I quickly responsed that the most critical function of a fire chief is to keep firefighters safe. Everything I do is related to firefighter safety, whether it is attending a budget meeting, developing operational guidelines, scheduling training, mentoring, pre-planning, or responding.
Written by Elias Markou
I am about to embark on a sensitive topic: obesity and weight loss. Quite often firefighters ask about their weight concerns, and express a desire to lose weight. However, there are firefighters who are in complete denial about their weight. In my opinion, they are walking the fine line between life and death.
Written by David Gillis and Ruth Lamb
Firefighter David Gillis never knows when a response to a call will trigger the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). But through a program called Strategic Resilience for First Responders, Gillis is able to manage the mental and physical reactions that used to stop him in his tracks.
Written by David Moseley
The neigbouring fire department calls you about a multi-casualty collision to which it responded. Among the dead are well-known community members, some related to responders.
Written by Laura King
Editor Laura King interviewed Ontario Labour Minister Kevin Flynn in April, a year after the Supporting First Responders Act made PTSD a presumptive illness, and in the lead up to PTSD Awareness Month in June.
Written by Keith Stecko
Making a conscious effort to build your personal resilience is one of the most important things you can do for yourself as a firefighter. Being a firefighter is physically and emotionally demanding. Having a tailored personal resilience program can produce positive results and help to maintain work-life balance.
Written by Wayne Jasper
Mental-health programs teach us that the effects of trauma can be cumulative. As a chief officer, do you know how much exposure your crews have had to traumatic incidents such as fatalities or calls involving children?
Written by David Moseley
Not all critical incident stress management (CISM) programs are equal. Having had the privilege to work on four CISM teams, it is clear that certain practices and protocols enhance the program for both facilitators and participants. If your department is looking to adopt a CISM program, here are some considerations.
Written by David Moseley
Dead children, severe mutilation, homicide, known victims, aircraft crashes, injured and dead firefighters: sadly, I don’t think my experiences of fire fighting are unusual. Who could deny this takes an emotional toll on us? Who would argue that as an organization, a profession, we don’t have an obligation to address the emotional cost?
Written by Mike Vilneff
Life is too short; we have all heard this cliché many times, but it seems that the older you get the more you hear and use it. So, if life is too short, what are you doing to make the most of it?
Written by Rob Grimwood
For many years, firefighters took pride in the soot that covered their bunker gear, helmets and gloves; it was a sign that they had been to a good job, and evidence that they had been on the front lines of fire attack. As fire prevention efforts paid off and the number of structure fires decreased, fewer firefighters engaged in fire attack; when they did, they were sure to leave all the evidence in place.
Written by Maria Church

June 2016 - Fire Chief Colin Shewell and Deputy Chief Roree Payment are the only full-time members of Clearview Fire and Emergency Services in Ontario. The department heads were naturally nervous when they decided to introduce a mandatory annual physical-abilities test for all paid-on-call firefighters.

Written by Gord Schreiner
Much has been written about cancer and its relationship to the fire service. The bottom line is that if you are a firefighter you have a higher chance of getting cancer than a non-firefighter. Rather than argue about how many times more likely we are to get cancer, I would rather discuss some ways chief officers and firefighters can help reduce these odds.
Written by Mike Vilneff
Hernia: the protrusion of an organ or the fascia of an organ through the wall of the cavity that normally contains it.
Written by Elias Markou
Electrolyte deficiencies and dehydration are the most common preventable occupational hazards faced by firefighters. Firefighters, similar to high-level athletes, lose water rapidly during physical exertion. Water is the carrier of electrolytes, so dehydration leads to electrolyte depletion. Almost all firefighters have experienced an intense fire with searing, radiant heat, hours of physical activity in heavy bunker gear and quick changes in core body temperatures. The body depends on sweat to cool itself, so an extreme fire situation can quickly empty its water reserve.

There are a number of risk factors that affect depletion of water and minerals in a firefighter. Firefighters, wearing layers of non-breathable clothing to protect themselves, often deal with high temperatures inside a structure or outside on a hot summer day. Extreme sweating in these conditions depletes the body of all its water and good minerals.

Research conducted by the University of Cumbria in England, in collaboration with Cumbria Fire and Rescue Service, highlights how vital proper hydration is to a firefighter’s performance. The study identified that a high percentage of firefighters arrived to a training exercise or a real fire incident already significantly or severely dehydrated.

Electrolytes are minerals that are essential for the body to function. When water with electrolytes is consumed, the minerals are dissolved in the water and they enter the blood system. These minerals have ionic electrical charges that drive the function of every cell in the body. So imagine the importance minerals such as potassium, sodium, calcium and magnesium play in holding water in the body, making your cardiovascular system function and allowing energy production in muscle, brain and vital organs. Water and electrolytes are critical for peak performance, but are by far the most important health issue often overlooked. Dehydration, in extreme cases, can cause death.

 Potassium is probably the most important mineral in the body. Potassium helps maintain electrical activity in the brain and the heart. Potassium deficiency, for firefighters in extreme occupational situations, can be life threatening.  

The second most important and the second most abundant mineral in the body is phosphorus. Phosphorus is used for protein, fat and carbohydrate synthesis in the body; these key nutrients are integrated into DNA and cellular membranes. For firefighters, this mineral is mostly used in recovery after intense firefighting activity.

Sodium is known to regulate the level of water in the body. The more water you drink, the more sodium will be removed from your body via the kidneys. Sodium is used in transmitting important but subtle information from cell to cell in the body. Finding a good balance between sodium and water intake is critical.

Magnesium is responsible for more than 400 biochemical interactions in the body; about half the magnesium is found in critical organs such as the heart, nerves, muscles and the immune system. When firefighters experience muscle cramping during or after an intense fire, they should reach for large dosages of magnesium to reverse the effects. Depleted magnesium stores in the body prevent the muscles from physiologically performing. If a muscle does not slide properly, sudden movements can damage the tissue. A muscle pull is the most common fire-scene injury for firefighters.

There are many signs associated with electrolyte and water deficiency and imbalance. In the rush of life and especially fire fighting, we often overlook the simple act of rehydration. Examples of symptoms associated with water and electrolyte deficiencies include muscle spasms, restlessness, insomnia, dizziness, headaches, fever, heart activity, heart palpitations and blood pressure issues. If ignored and not treated, these symptoms become chronic and sometimes life threatening.

Finding electrolytes and water in whole, complete foods is a great way to increase minerals in the body. Vegetables are an excellent source of electrolytes, especially when combined in a soup. Consider adding kale, artichoke, spinach, parsley and Swiss chard into your diet. Another way to boost mineral intake is to use salts that contain more minerals, such as Himalayan, Celtic or sea salt. Fruits can also be a great source of minerals and water, including bananas, coconuts and avocados.

As a firefighter, make sure you are properly hydrated and balanced with electrolytes to maintain an optimum performing body.

Elias Markou is in private practice in Mississauga, Ont., and is the chief medical officer for the Halton Hills Fire Department. Markou was a volunteer firefighter for six years and is now a firefighter health expert and blogger who is regularly featured on television and radio and in print. Contact him at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

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