While on the path to becoming a firefighter, individuals may commonly wonder if they have any physical problems or conditions that could prevent them from achieving their professional goals.
Firefighting is a physically taxing and difficult job that requires a particular level of physical condition and abilities.
While certain disabilities will prevent you from becoming a firefighter, many others will not affect your work opportunities.
Your ability to perform all critical firefighter responsibilities safely and effectively will determine your success. Recruiting choices will be decided separately by each department.
In the United States, several criteria are applied to assess if an applicant is safe enough to serve as a firefighter, however, each fire department makes its final judgment regarding who is qualified to be a firefighter and whom it wishes to recruit.
Here are a few common disabilities and whether you can become a firefighter while having them.
Medical Standards Of Firefighters
The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) sets standards for the entirety of the American fire service.
The majority of fire departments have adopted these standards as best practices, however, they are not mandated.
The majority of fire departments utilize NFPA 1582 - Standard on Comprehensive Occupational Medical Program for Fire Departments, to determine medical and physical fitness for the position of firefighter.
To work as a firefighter, you must be able to safely do the fourteen actions defined in these criteria. Here are some of the requirements as an example:
- Perform firefighting, rescue, and emergency response duties in extreme conditions, including exposure to heat and cold, while wearing full firefighting gear (PPE).
- Capability to operate an SCBA with positive pressure and withstand rising breathing demands.
- Exposure to hazardous, pathogenic, and very hot gases.
- Climb six or more flights of stairs while carrying 50 pounds of equipment and supplies.
Each fire department will assess which of these essential job responsibilities apply to them and will make the final choice regarding the specific qualifications for its firefighters.
Also included in NFPA 1582 is a detailed list of medical conditions classified as either Category A or Category B.
The NFPA advises dismissing a candidate immediately if a Category A issue is evident (unless they meet the specific criteria set forth for that condition).
The NFPA advises that persons with Category B conditions pass the medical evaluation if they can safely perform all 14 essential occupational duties.
Type 1 Diabetes
If you have type 1 diabetes and meet all NFPA 1582 standards, you may be allowed to serve as a firefighter.
You must also demonstrate your ability to complete all essential job activities.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Type 1 Diabetes is a condition in which the pancreas does not generate any or sufficient insulin, which is required for sugar in the blood to enter cells and be used as energy.
This disorder is sometimes referred to as diabetes reliant on insulin.
Here are a few of the NFPA 1582 standards to become firefighters:
- You consult with a physician with competence in the current treatment of diabetes using a basal/bolus regimen, which may include subcutaneous insulin infusion pumps utilizing insulin analogs.
- Demonstrate the motivation and understanding required to monitor and manage capillary blood glucose utilizing nutritional therapy and insulin administration over a minimum of six months.
- A licensed ophthalmologist or optometrist has done a dilated retinal examination that demonstrates no microaneurysms of grade 2 or higher on the international clinical diabetic retinopathy disease severity scale.
- Normal renal function is indicated by a calculated creatinine clearance of more than 60 ml/min and the absence of proteinuria.
- There are no indications of either peripheral or autonomic neuropathy.
A person with epilepsy can serve as a firefighter, although safety issues may prevent the majority from doing so.
Epilepsy is a Category A condition under NFPA 1582, which means you must meet all of the standards to qualify for a career as a firefighter.
Epilepsy is a disorder of the central nervous system.
This illness is characterized by recurrent seizures (a sudden electrical disturbance in the brain, leading to a period of unconsciousness, convulsions, or behavioral change) that are frequently treated with medication.
Having a seizure might have a big influence on the firefighters, their coworkers, and the general public's safety and lives.
Therefore, the NFPA will require anybody with epilepsy who wishes to serve as a firefighter to fulfill four requirements:
- No seizures in the preceding ten years
- Five years without seizure medication or five years on a consistent regimen of seizure medication with no side effects that interfere with the ability to perform the 14 essential job functions.
- Normal neurological examination
- A decisive statement from a neurological specialist declaring that the individual meets the aforementioned qualifications, is cleared for firefighting training and employment, and is capable of completing all essential job functions.
- You should be able to pass the medical test and qualify as a firefighter if you can meet all of these standards.
If you have autism, you may or may not be permitted to be a firefighter.
As people can fall anywhere on the large autism spectrum, fire departments typically go on a case-by-case basis rather than a blanket rule for all.
NFPA 1582 does not ban autistic persons from becoming firefighters; but, autistic individuals may be unable to perform some fundamental job requirements.
Autism or Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a combination of speech, behavior, and learning difficulties.
Depending on the severity of the disorder, symptoms might vary significantly.
People with severe (low-functioning) autism will be unable to carry out the fundamental duties of a firefighter, while those with less severe (high-functioning) autism may have little difficulty.
Firefighters are needed to work as a team, communicate well, and adapt quickly to changing circumstances and demands which can be difficult for autistic people to do.
We have only mentioned a few disabilities and medical conditions here, so you will have to speak with the fire department to find out whether you will be allowed to apply.
Typically though, so long as you can perform all of the tasks of a firefighter well, there will be no issue in joining the fire department.