As Firehouse Sees It: Four Must-Dos in 2023

Jan. 9, 2023
Peter Matthews issues a clarion call to individuals and departments alike to be proactive about four matters that affect member health.

As we begin the New Year, there are several fire service priorities to address from the organizational level and the individual firefighter’s level.

The first ties into an experience that started last summer. I attended a firefighter cancer symposium at a local college to see a few friends and to listen to firefighter cancer updates directly from researchers and doctors who are studying this growing problem in the fire service.

One cancer survivor speaker shared a touching story about how he found out that he had cancer and everything that followed. His journey was long, but it led to a successful outcome via early intervention and treatment.

That survivor story hit home with one of my good friends, who reported similar symptoms. Attending the conference lit the fire to make a doctor’s appointment. That led to a battery of tests and additional visits. He learned that he has cancer. It is similar to what the cancer survivor had, and we’re hoping that this will be under control quickly because of the early detection.

Find an in-person or virtual firefighter cancer symposium to attend this year, whether you’re on the job 25 years or five. It seems that cancer is affecting everyone in the fire service, whether they are being diagnosed or a colleague is. Several organizations, including the First Responder Center for Excellence and Firefighter Cancer Support Network, are great places to start. You owe it to yourself and to your family.

Firefighter Cancer Support Network and IAFF launched Fire Fighter Cancer Awareness Month this month. The purpose: raise awareness and reduce the threat.

The annual physical

Over the past few years, a number of younger firefighters, many of whom were younger than 35, collapsed during training or operations, with deaths reported. One emerging issue is rhabdomyolysis (rhabdo). It affects firefighters who have had prolonged heated conditions. This underscores the importance of the annual physical, with a special emphasis on firefighter-related medical conditions.

For small departments that have a minimal budget, partner with a local doctor or clinic to see whether members can get a baseline physical. My father’s small, rural department was the benefactor of such a relationship: His physical caught him on the verge of a widowmaker heart attack.

Mental wellbeing

With overtime challenges and overall burnout rolling into the new year, coupled with growing call volumes, mental health requires attention at every level in your organization. All of the key organizations offer materials.

Lithium-ion batteries

One of the latest fire threats also is turning into a hazmat danger for firefighters and civilians alike—the lithium-ion (li-ion) battery. Fires that are caused by or that involve li-ion batteries are a growing problem. They already are causing civilian deaths and firefighter injuries.

The first round of research findings and tactical suggestions came out late last year. Check them out as well as FDNY’s Frank Leeb’s “Operational Considerations for Fires that Involve Lithium-ion Batteries” on page 12.

Firehouse conference updates

The Firehouse Station Design Conference moves back to St. Louis this spring. Four days of sessions will focus on helping departments to navigate the process of designing a new fire station or other public safety facility or renovating an existing one. If your department is in such a process, you surely will benefit from how the conference affords information about each step of the endeavor, to help you to avoid common pitfalls and/or extensive mistakes that might delay the opening or require a shutdown of the station after it’s opened. Get the conference schedule and full details at

The conference program for Firehouse Expo’s five days of education and hands-on training will be available at the end of this month. The conference planning committee reviewed hundreds of proposals that included many exciting new sessions for 2023, including lessons learned, new leadership concepts, and updated fireground tactics and rescue operations. We’re updating the overall schedule to allow for more educational opportunities plus adding new concepts for your exhibit floor experience. Find out more at

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