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  • Diabetics as Firefighters

    Can insulin dependent diabetics be hired as firefighters if they are healthy and pass a routine physical with no problems other than being a diabetic?

  • #2
    Yes. I have worked with an insulin dependant diabetic for 3 years and never seen him run into a problem. His team members are aware and he is vigilant in monitoring his own condition. He's one heck of a firefighter.

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    • #3
      Maybe its only in Canada Medic. I know of at least three guys who are insulin dependant firefighters and they have had no trouble at all.

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      • #4
        Mike,
        I am assuming that you are diabetic and want to be a firefighter, if that is not the case hopeful what I have to say will still be of some use...
        It is possible to be a diabetic and a firefighter. I am one of 2 type 1 diabetics on my department. There are added concerns for us on the fire ground. We have to be aware of what our bodies are telling us and be able to quickly make the situation better. This is a physically demanding job, and a diabetic’s body does not react to physical exertion like everyone else’s. I would recommend a few things. Be in good shape. This is a need for every firefighter, but the more a diabetic exercises the better he or she is at dealing with, and recognizing the complications. Second, look into the insulin pump. I use one and have had better control in addition to recognizing both highs and lows more quickly. Be honest with those who you work with. Don’t try to hide anything about your condition, because if you are not honest you will more than likely become a liability on the fire ground.
        The first time I caught a really hot one I was on the first engine in, working backup on the initial line. My diabetes played a factor in my performance. I waited to long to tell my captain that I needed a break. I was both overheated and had low bloodsugar. It was a learning experience, and it made me realize what I needed to change. You are doing the right thing by taking advantage of this resource and asking questions.
        Jeff
        Never Stop Learning

        [ 10-19-2001: Message edited by: truck197 ]

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        • #5
          I'm diabetic too and I've had no problems getting on a fire department because of it. As long as you take care of yourself and know when enough is enough, you shouldn't have any problems either.

          I don't think a department could really exclude you from thier hiring process for that either. You can still do all the physical stuff that is required for the job, and probably are healthier then half the guys on the department because you have to watch your diet and exercise. Don't use it as a crutch....

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          • #6
            Mike,
            I'm an insulin dependant diabetic and have been for over three years now. The main things to remember are:
            1) Take care of yourself and exercise. You will better learn your limits and stretch them out at the same time.
            2) Keep everyone informed as to your condition. My engine Lt. and Battion Chief are kept up on my diabetes. The other crews in the city know about my condition and they know where I keep my "goodies" on the engine. They also ask mean if I "need a Snickers" when I'm working.
            3) I also think it's against the American with Disabilities Act. since your are able to preform the functions. But, like EC116 said, it's not a crutch.

            James
            There is seldom an inner urge to preach what one practices.

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            • #7
              Thanks for all the great advice and info. I was asking for my buddy who has been a volunteer for a while and has just gotten hired on fulltime. He is a hard worker and I am sure he will be a great asset to our force. I am passing all these comment to him and he really appreciates your encouragement. Thanks.

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              • #8
                I work with two diabetics, one on a insulin pump and the other w/ injections. Neither seems to have a problem. It sounds like you need to know your limits and try to stay within them.

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                • #9
                  I hate to be the one to pee in the Cheerios, but I have a problem with insulin-dependent diabetics performing suppression activities. One of the previous postings made the case by stating that his first working fire caused him problems. If the situation had gone sour (as all veteran firefighters have experienced), and his partner had become entrapped by a falling wall, etc, this firefighter may have been unable to effect a positive outcome.

                  I know that many diabetics regulate their insulin and glucose levels well, but the chance of extreme exertion is always lurking in the background in our profession. If a diabetic is unable to control his environment (and he certainly cannot control it in a hostile fire situation), I think he could be a liability.

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                  • #10
                    E6,
                    I will admit it quite openly; I have not been in the fire service that long, and I run with a rural, relatively low call volume volly department. That much being admitted, I have to say that I enjoy hearing what those with different experiences have to say, but I must disagree. I appreciate what you are saying, that diabetics have an added constraint, but I do not believe that this should eliminate them from interior operations. I have not met a firefighter who is ‘ideal.’ Every guy out there has a variety of issues, physical and otherwise, which they must overcome on the fireground. Its just a plain fact that we all have our obstacles to overcome. By your logic some great firefighters who I know should not be doing interior work because, in the same collapse situation, they just plain lack the upper body strength to perform that evolution. No matter what some of these guys do they are not going overcome that physical obstacle, the only way to do this would be by changing their body. Rather, they are going to use their experience and training to compensate for what they don’t have, just like a diabetic firefighter.
                    Keep safe,
                    Jeff

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                    • #11
                      I have been an insulin dependent firefighter for about 10 years now. I have yet to have any problem with performance on an interior attack, much less any other task I am assigned.

                      It is all about knowing your body. I know my body better than most, and it is because I have to know my body in order to function properly. I eat proper, exercise and take care of myself, much better than people with no disease at all.

                      I hate to see someone, not to mention any names (OldE6man), who knows nothing about what a diabetic can do or must do, knows nothing about physical limitations of diabetics or how our illness can affect our physical abilities. It angers me.

                      Come to my department. I guarantee that the only time you will know I am a diabetic is when the dinner bell rings and I must go get Mr. Needle to take care of business. As far as interior attack, ask my brothers if any doubt enters their mind if I am behind them or vice versa...I am sure they will tell you no, Hell NO!! If doubt entered their mind, I would not be doing what I do because I know their life, as well as mine, is on the line each and every call. But I would not expect your closed mind to comprehend what I am saying, so I'll end it here.

                      Truck197, my hats are off to you. I'd follow you to hell and back and you'd better bet your sweet backside that I'll have that hinee covered!!!
                      Begin with the end in mind.

                      Be safe out there!!

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                      • #12
                        Hotdog, your response is precisely the reason that I usually read others' posts and keep my opinions to myself. Bus since you have thrown down the gauntlet, I am compelled to respond.

                        I am not a diabetic, but I do have some insight into what physical limitations a diabetic has, and how hypoglycemia and hyperglycemia affect a firefighter's ability to perform his or her duties, expecially under the extremes of intense interior suppression operations.

                        I served a tour in charge of the occupational medicine facility for a large department. In that capacity, I worked with physicians who are nationally recognized for work in occupational medicine and health. We studied ADA, OSHA regulations, and appropriate NFPA standards on firefighter health and safety issues. I have also been a union official and advocate for firefighters. I hope that qualifies me as more than a loudmouth backstep guy with more opinion than fact.

                        Diabetes is one of the most difficult conditions for the fire service to consider. For persons like you, who obviously are very 'in tune' with their bodies, and take steps to minimize the impact that an insulin/glucose imbalance can have on your ability to perform your duties, there is a significantly lower risk of problems. Unfortunately, it has been my experience that firefighters like you are the exception rather than the rule.

                        Your comment about 'Mr. Needle' addresses my concerns again. Since the fire service is far from a controlled environment, you cannot predict that 'the big one' won't happen fifteen seconds before or after you have injected yourself, when your levels would need regulation. At that instant, you might have to charge out the door for an extended duration incident.

                        I hope you don't interpret my remarks as a personal affront. I just think this is a very thorny issue for the fire service, and it cannot be dismissed by a few 'feel-good' posts.

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                        • #13
                          OldE6man,

                          I thank you for your civil response. I appologize if I came across as defensive, but this is a sensitive area for me and sometimes I take comments personally.

                          I can understand your stance after reading your second post. Maybe I am the exception to the rule. I just take for granted sometimes, that all diabetics take care of themselves the way they should. Diabetes is definatly not something to be shrugged off.

                          The point I am trying to make is, as long as one knows his limitations and is "in tune" with his/her body, diabetes is not something that will limit what he/she is capable of doing. However, if one is not "in tune" with his body, then you are correct, there can be devastating consequences. If you know anything about Diabetes, you can tell after hanging around with someone if they take care of themself or not.

                          To answer your statement about my needle, I agree with you to an extent, however precautions can be taken to prevent an accident, and again, knowing my body I do things in a way that prevent episodes of glucose imbalance. To date my little system has worked, but with everything there is always a chance...

                          Again I apoligize if I offended you. I take great pride in what I do and love it more than anything. I strive to do the best I can and, as anyone who takes pride in themselves and what they do, tend to get defensive at times.

                          God Bless Firefighters and God Bless FDNY!!
                          Begin with the end in mind.

                          Be safe out there!!

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                          • #14
                            So oldman, what you're saying is we are supposed to sit back and take it easy, relax and not do anything "just in case" something happens. No, I don't think so. If I have a problem, I take care of it. Otherwise I go about my job in the way everyone else does. I'm not going to not do something for fear that i might have an insulin reaction. If I do, I take a break, take care of it, and get back in there. It's not like I'm going to be standing one minute and passed out the next, where someones going to have to rescue me. Hypoglycemia has warning signs, and as long as you listen to your body you can see those warning signs and do something to counteract them.

                            As for being a "liability"..well, oh well. So is the old guy who might have a heart attack from overexertion or the fat guy who doesn't take care of himself. They are still allowed to fight fires, so why shouldn't I?

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                            • #15
                              Hotdog email me if you could I have some questions I would like to get together with you on. I too am an insulin depedent diabetic, and have found ways to prevent the mid-meal call problem. I eat then take insulin, food is in and then I can make sure I have the insulin to manage it. I realize this forum is about careers in the fire service but I thought that it may be a jumping off point for all diabetics firefighters to get together and share thoughts, suggestions, and benefit from others experience.
                              Shawn M. Cecula
                              Firefighter
                              IACOJ Division of Fire and EMS

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