Responders at both small and large incidents can be exposed to any number of toxins that cause both short- and long-term health consequences. Some health-related issues may surface right away, while others may stay dormant for months or years.
Many personnel who responded to incidents such as the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, Hurricane Katrina and the massive BP oil spill have shown signs of illness.
NIOSH and other officials have established a proposed guide to monitor the health and safety of responders. The 196-page document Emergency Responder Health Monitoring and Surveillance is now open for review and comments.
The document and comment information can be viewed here. Those wanting to make comments should do so by April 1.
The plan addresses a myriad of topics ranging from the need for credentials on scenes to conducting surveillance of medical issues to the need for after-action assessments. Agencies participating in developing it included the International Association of Fire Fighters, FDNY, FEMA, OSHA, American Red Cross, California Department of Public Health, U.S. Coast Guard, Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
They also spell out the need for responders to be properly trained and physically and emotionally fit for duty.
NIOSH officials explained in a prepared statement why they felt such a document is so vital.
"The goals of this proposed system are to ensure that only properly trained and fit responders are deployed to a response, that the health and safety of all responders are appropriately monitored during a response, and that a systematic and comprehensive evaluation be conducted to determine the potential need for long-term surveillance of responders' health after their deployment has been completed," they write.
"This system will help to ensure that hazardous occupational exposures and signs and symptoms observed during an emergency response are utilized to mitigate adverse physical and psychological outcomes and determine whether protective measures are sufficient to prevent or reduce harmful exposures to workers.
"Data collected during the pre-, during and post-deployment phases will also help to identify which responders would benefit from medical referral and possible enrollment in a long-term health surveillance program."
Officials said when possible, command should create a central check-in point where all responders must be cleared before entering a site or scene. That roster may be invaluable later, especially if medical follow-ups are necessary. "This record will also facilitate analysis of potential health effects by acting as a way to compare exposed individuals to control populations in the event concerns about health symptoms arise," according to the document.