RACINE COUNTY — Sprains, strains and other muscular injuries — but not burns — are the most common injuries firefighters receive in the line of duty, according to local and national data.
Firefighters’ protective gear keeps them from being burned, but the sudden nature of their work and the heavy lifting it often involves means muscles are at risk, local fire chiefs said.
“Injuries will always be part of what we do,” Racine Fire Chief Steve Hansen said in an email. “We are responding to emergency calls for help under hazardous situations where at times victim’s lives depend on us being able to do our jobs to the best of our abilities under the most demanding situations.”
The National Fire Protection Association released its annual report documenting on-duty firefighter injuries in 2012 earlier this month. It showed that of about 69,400 injuries that year, 57 percent were muscle-related. The Racine Fire Department’s numbers for that report also show strains as the most common type of injury overall between 2010 and 2012; though not part of the report, Caledonia and South Shore fire chiefs said the same holds true for them.
Both local and national records show burns at the scene of the fire are a rarity, which Chief Richard Roeder of the Caledonia Fire Department said was not surprising, considering all the expensive gear worn to prevent such injuries.
“If I get burned at the fire, I did something wrong,” he said.
Roeder said the need to respond to any kind of call at a moment’s notice makes firefighters more prone to pull muscles instead.
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“A professional athlete has half an hour to warm up before he has to go out and work,” he said. “A lot of times we don’t have the luxury of warming up.”
Additional factors can also complicate rescue efforts such as moving a patient down a narrow flight of stairs or moving a heavier-than-average person on a 75-pound cot.
Local firefighters often find themselves doing tasks like that; about 85 percent of Caledonia and South Shore’s calls this year were for emergency medical service, the chiefs of those departments said. Racine’s calls were also primarily for emergency medical service, department officials said.
Using his records of compensation for work-related injuries, South Shore Fire Department Chief Robert Stedman also noted his department had 11 cases in 2012 and 2013 of “foreign bodies in the eyes,” which he said typically occurs when someone spits at a firefighter’s face.
‘Can’t control it’
“Overall, our department and personnel have a record of low amounts of injuries based on the number of calls,” said Stedman. “But sometimes you just can’t control it.”
He added the department has been lucky to only have three significant injury claims since 2011 and none this year.
Hansen worried his department could see more injuries in the future from lack of training due to a budget decision by City of Racine officials to not fund the Fire Suppression Training Officer position for the coming fiscal year.
“Training is what we do to keep safe and, without having central coordination of our training activities, we will develop safety issues over time,” he said.