Emergency medical service (EMS) personnel are the first to arrive at stressful scenes. Oftentimes calls bring these crews to individuals who are scared, hurt, or angry. These heroic professionals work tirelessly to help in any way they can, even going into burning buildings in the case of your local fireman.
While EMS crews play a vital role in the community, working in these adrenaline-filled situations can take its toll. Unfortunately, smoking is a common stress reliever for many of these first responders.
Do EMS Persons Really Smoke?
It's been clear for decades that smoking isn't good for you. Smoking causes everything from cancer to respiratory distress to heart attack and stroke. Medical personnel know this all too well. Understanding these risks, do emergency medical workers ignore the warnings and still light up?
Studies show that about 17% of EMS personnel do smoke. What's more, the frequency of smoking seems to increase for those who've been on the job the longest, with workers who'd been on the job over 20 years smoking the most.
And this habit has direct costs in the workplace. Current smokers cost a workplace $1,807 more in missed work and lost productivity than nonsmokers. Even former smokers cost $623 more per year in lost work according to the IAFF.
Why Paramedics and Firefighters Smoke
While it might seem contradictory that educated medical workers would engage in such a risky activity, it makes much more sense when you review coping mechanisms, and cigarettes are a welcome stress relief for many. Cutting a child out of a car wreck or failing to resuscitate a beloved family member are not only stressful events at the time, but can take a lengthy toll on mental health afterward.
In a population with a suicide rate 10 times higher than average, even the smallest relief can be welcome. Unfortunately for EMS health and safety, that relief can quickly turn to an addiction with additional consequences.
EMS Health and Safety Consequences of Smoking
As detailed above, mental health is a huge concern in emergency medical providers. While smoking may not directly harm mental health, it can provide a crutch used instead of dealing with the underlying issue.
Unfortunately, smoking does cause direct EMS health and safety issues too. Cigarette cravings on the job can lead to distraction, and a distracted firefighter can easily face injury. A distracted ambulance driver could miss a call or an oncoming car.
Accident scenes frequently have airborne sediments and toxins, such as burning asbestos. Working on these scenes can cause cancer and respiratory issues in itself. Firefighters have an increased risk of cancers including colon, brain, bladder, blood, and kidney cancers. Cigarettes enhance these already high risks.
What's worse, cigarettes taken onto the scene, such as in a coat pocket, can become contaminated by toxins burning in the air. When these cigarettes are smoked at a different location, the EMS worker will be exposed again, possibly damaging lungs, throat, eyes, and more.
Smoking is just one of several health risks associated with the EMS professional. To learn about other known health risks in the EMS profession and proven ways to combat them read our recent eBook, Promoting EMS Staff Productivity: Addressing the Health and Wellness of First Responders.
Graham Medical, manufacturers of the MegaMover® Transport Units, is very appreciative of the efforts of fire safety personnel. We are committed to supporting your team's health, wellness and career longevity.