Jacksonville’s First Responders are constantly called upon to put themselves at risk and do so knowing the dangers of their job on their mind, body, and spirit. Nationwide, death and injury because of job related illnesses and public violence on first responders has continued to increase without a hint of subsiding. Firefighters, like Police officers, have always reported to work with the knowledge that dangers exist just by pulling on that uniform but, today’s attacks on those that arrive to emergency scenes first has become more focused and disturbingly more common.
Job related illnesses have also increased despite newer and more advanced safety gear and policies. Why? One common opinion is that a house fire in 1952 was more “natural” in material and composition. Firefighters entered structures that were on fire back then but exposure to what burns in today’s homes and businesses is much different than back in the 50s or 60s. Most of today’s modern building materials are made of a chemical soup of binding and glued substances that is the now the norm rather than the exception. A solid oak cabinet is now laced with chemicals that didn’t even exist back in the early 1950’s. Breathing apparatus for firefighters has become part of the armor of first responders and to go inside a building on fire today is now unthinkable, except in the most dire of circumstances to save a life. Why then are firefighters dying of such increased rates of cancer than their predecessors? Possibly, documentation standards have increased and/or studies that pull the blanket back on the real issue of firefighter death and injury statistics is more readily available.
Either way, the increased dangers of these occupational exposures and the disturbing trend of attacks to first responders has changed the way firefighters and police officers enter and render aid. Terms like improvised explosive devices (ied’s), situational awareness, and responder targeting has been added to every training scenario when dealing with the people we are supposed to be protecting.
These issues will not be resolved by operating as normal but must be addressed before that next chemical laden fire is called in or that next disturbed individual decides to ambush those that raised their hand to pledge an oath to serve and protect the citizens of Jacksonville.