Asthma is one of the most common conditions in the US; in fact, it affects approximately 25 million Americans— that’s around 8% of adults and 7% of children in the country. So what happens if these people want to become firefighters?
Many people assume that if you have asthma, you’re automatically disqualified from the application process, thus never becoming a full-fledged firefighter. However, the process isn’t that clear-cut.
Having asthma doesn’t necessarily mean that you can’t be a firefighter, so long as you have your symptoms under control.
Every asthma sufferer is different, and each applicant will be considered based on their individual circumstances.
So, can you be a firefighter with asthma?
Yes, it is possible to be a firefighter even if you have asthma. However, if your symptoms are prevalent, you’re less likely to be accepted.
To prove that you have the symptoms of your condition under control, you’ll have to undertake a few different medical tests.
These will usually be respiratory tests that can reveal whether or not your lungs will be able to handle the strain that comes along with being a firefighter.
No two fire departments are exactly alike; some will be more lenient than others when it comes to accepting applicants with asthma.
To avoid disappointment, we recommend that you check the applicable rules and guidelines of the specific department you want to work in.
Can firefighting make my asthma worse?
Firefighters are exposed to smoke and other toxicants as part of their job, which are irritating to the lungs and upper respiratory tract and can exacerbate the symptoms of wheezing in firefighters with asthma.
Irritants are tiny particles that can trigger an asthma attack. Examples of this are air pollution, tobacco and fire smoke, perfumes, scented candles, and cleaning products.
Many people who have asthma as children may notice their symptoms improve in their teens and early adulthood. It is not rare for an asthmatic youngster to no longer have asthma after graduating as a firefighter in their late teens.
To put it plainly, you must be able to breathe well in order to be a firefighter.
It is critical that you’re able to breathe properly because dealing with fires and other disasters require you to be able to act in a controlled and cool manner.
There are numerous hazards and toxins in the air on-scene that could cause cancer and further harm to your lungs if you already have limited lung function. If you cannot work while wearing your SCBA without becoming a liability, you may be unable to work.
You’ll also need a good lung capacity and level of fitness to handle all of the physical training and effort in your everyday job. When working with heavy machinery on a daily basis, you can’t get out of breath and go for an inhaler.
You may also experience breathing difficulties when climbing ladders or engaging in other intense activities. It all comes down to your health and safety, as well as the health and safety of your crew and the citizens on the site.
If you have asthma under control, you should be aware of what causes an asthma attack. Knowing your triggers can have an impact on your future in the fire department.
If smoke triggers an asthma attack, firefighting probably isn’t a suitable career for you. This is also the case if your asthma attacks are triggered by exercise. If it is just an allergy issue, you’ll probably be just fine.
What do the guidelines say?
In most fire service guidelines, asthma is regarded as a Category A condition. People with Category A conditions are usually immediately disqualified from the application process, but it’s not that black and white when it comes to asthma.
Most guidelines state that potential candidates can have no “reactive airways disease requiring bronchodilator or corticosteroid therapy in the last 2 years.” This means that you can technically have asthma and still be accepted into the force.
As long as you don’t require an inhaler and you can prove that you’ve been asymptomatic for at least 2 years, you’ll probably qualify.
The physicians’ decision after the firefighter’s medical exam will be based on a test. If you pass the test, you will advance in the recruitment process.
You must abstain from all anti-inflammatory medications for four weeks and refrain from taking your inhaler on the day of the test.
This test is not the only technique to ensure that you are given a fair chance during the employment process. During the medical exam, your breathing abilities and lung capacity will be pushed to the max to evaluate how your lungs respond.
If the test results are negative, you should be good. A conversation regarding your medical history will also be required as part of the medical evaluation. Improvements and a reduction in medication use should be explored.
You can also discuss how this will not be an issue during the interview process, if necessary.
How do I manage my asthma as a firefighter?
If you passed the test and already have a job as a firefighter, there are a few things you can do to improve your lung capacity which can help to lessen the risk of potential triggers.
Carefully consider what your triggers are and how you can approach them in the workplace.
Some people find it useful to have a plan of action in place with the rest of their team in case of an asthma attack. This can help to ensure a fast response if you ever need it.
Be sure to talk openly with them about your symptoms and teach them what signs to look out for and all about your triggers.
Firefighters who were not asthmatic prior to employment but developed asthma while on the job should be investigated for potential causes.
Chemicals, toxic spills, and combustion smoke can all cause occupational asthma and other reactive airway disorders (RADS).