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Lack of Sleep More Deadly for Firefighters Than Fire

may 4 firefighters graphicInternational Firefighters’ Day is observed on May 4th each year. It is a date to remember past firefighters who may have died protecting us, and to show our appreciation and support for the firefighters who continue to serve and protect our communities.

Obviously, being a firefighter is a dangerous job, and it would be a natural assumption to think the death of a firefighter would be fire-related. After all, firefighters risk their lives day-in and day-out to save people and pets (in addition to their property) who fall victim to fires.

However, more than 60 percent of firefighters are killed by heart attacks and traffic accidents rather than by fire, the New York Times reports.  And, researchers believe that it is the effects of sleep deprivation that could be a significant contributing factor.

Fighting Sleep Disorders

tired firefighter-2.jpgIn a study of approximately 7,000 United States firefighters, researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) in Boston found that almost 40 percent suffered from a sleep disorder.

In particular, the BWH researchers found the firefighters studied had the following sleep disorders:

    • Insomnia
    • Obstructive Sleep Apnea
    • Restless Leg Syndrome
    • Shift-Work Disorder

The most common sleep disorders diagnosed was obstructive sleep apnea. The researchers also noted that the majority of firefighters who had sleep disorders weren’t receiving the treatment they needed. The results of the study are published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine on November 13, 2014.

Effects of Sleep Deprivation on Firefighters

The study revealed that firefighters who were struggling with a sleep disorder were more prone to falling asleep at the wheel and getting into a motor vehicle crash than those who didn’t have a sleep disorder.

It only takes 18 hours of sleep deprivation to affect firefighters’ safety by:

    • Decreasing reaction speed
    • Impairing judgment
    • Decreasing short and long-term memory

The effect can also be magnified if a firefighter’s work schedule results in a lack sleep over for a few days in a row.

The study also highlighted that firefighters who had screened positive for sleep disorders were more likely to report higher cases of:

    • Diabetes
    • Cardiovascular Disease
    • Depression
    • Anxiety
    • Poor Health
Sleep Deprivation Solutions for Firefighters

Since sleep deprivation is a real problem that jeopardizes our firefighters’ safety and health, it’s important to address this dangerous issue. Here are some things that organizations can do to help decrease the risk of sleep deprivation in firefighters:

    • Allow time for naps
    • Keep electronic games and television out of personal dorms; instead, put them in one large separate dorm area
    • Schedule shift times where people can sleep longer at home
    • Find ways to reduce call volumes
    • Schedule more off-duty time to eliminate sleep debt

This International Firefighters’ Day, make sure you say “thanks” to a firefighter. And if you know one personally, offer to do a chore for him or her so they can catch some needed shut-eye.

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