If you’ve ever taken a physical assessment from the fire department, you’ll have a small taste of how rigorously demanding their job is. Prospective firefighters need to possess good fitness, agility, and health to make it in the industry.
Another significant factor that may affect a firefighter's application is their eyesight.
It’s understandable why these officials need good eyesight, but at the same time, there are lots of forum entries from firefighters detailing their experience with poor eyesight while on the job.
So what does this mean? Can firefighters wear visual aids like glasses or contacts?
The short answer is yes, firefighters can wear contacts and glasses while working in the fire service.
We’ll cover this in more detail below, including some disqualifying reasons why prospective firefighters may not pass their application stage.
We’ll also cover what firefighters can do about their poor vision if they want to continue working in the industry.
Can Firefighters Wear Glasses?
Yes, firefighters can wear glasses! It may not be discussed enough, but glasses wearers can have a prosperous career in the fire service industry.
However, firefighters need to be prepared to alter their masks or undergo corrections to their vision.
The extent of this will depend on the degree of the vision impairment and if the affected person lives with any other conditions.
We’ll go over some of the factors which can disqualify a prospective firefighter from joining.
Disqualifying Medical Conditions
A firefighter’s medical exam categorizes medical conditions as Category A or B.
Conditions under Category B are permitted, as long as they don’t carry any substantial risk.
Conditions under Category A are not permitted, so they will disqualify applicants from the further process. In the case of vision, Category A conditions involve:
- Far visual acuteness under 20/40 binocular once corrected
- Monochromatic vision that prevents the affected using imaging gadgets
- Monocular vision that can affect depth perception
- Any other eye conditions which affect the candidate's ability to do their job safely
Bear in mind that many glasses wearers don’t fall under these classifications.
These individuals will be able to perform their role, as long as they are willing to make any necessary adjustments to their vision later on.
Should Firefighters Choose Glasses, Contacts, Or Laser Vision Surgery?
Now that we’ve covered the disqualifying points under Category A conditions, you may be wondering what prospective firefighters can do if they want to correct their poor vision.
Laser Vision Surgery
We’ll cover surgery first as it's the most intensive option. Laser vision surgery comes with advantages and disadvantages.
If the surgery goes well, this may lower the risk of encountering further issues when on the job. The patient is also less likely to deal with poor vision again.
Despite this, some fire departments discourage firefighter applicants from applying until a year has passed after surgery.
You’ll also have to consider the high cost of laser vision surgery. Ask yourself if you can afford the cost and the potential time lost after the surgery.
Now we can cover glasses. If you’re uncomfortable with pursuing surgery, you may be persuaded to get new glasses or keep your current ones.
It can be confusing to understand the rules around wearing glasses in the fire service.
Most fire departments state that glasses can be worn at the station and during some calls.
However, if the call involves having to wear a mask, the firefighter will not be able to wear their glasses.
A few firefighters may say that they continue to wear their glasses under their masks, but this can be dangerous.
If glasses are worn under a mask, this affects how the mask fits over the nose and mouth.
This can lead to gaps between your skin and the fabric, allowing smoke and harmful substances to enter your system.
If you are dependent on your glasses, there are a few things you can do in the meantime.
The first is to have a custom mask made so it will fit correctly while you are wearing your glasses.
This may be a good investment as it can affect your performance when you’re on a call.
The next tip is to obtain a mask with a shield. Try to find a manufacturer that makes the shield with the same prescription as your glasses.
This will allow you to see clearly without wearing your glasses beneath.
Lastly, you may choose not to wear your frames at all. This may be more likely during structural fires as the smoke means that visibility is poor for everybody, not just you.
This may not be the best option if your vision is particularly poor, but if you can still see reasonably well without your glasses, this may work well.
Despite popular belief, firefighters can wear contact lenses, but there is a lot of debate around the subject.
Some believe that contact lenses shouldn’t be worn as proximity to the heat may affect the lens.
Other firefighters may say that they have worn lenses on call for years and haven’t encountered any issues.
If you are inside a setting where the heat is blazing enough to melt your lenses through your mask, that should be the least of your worries.
Instead, you should contact your department and see what their advice is on both contact lenses and glasses.
Fire departments all have slightly different rules and regulations, so the views of one department may be completely different from the next.
Your department might be stricter or easygoing. It’s best to go with the advice from an official instead of following hearsay from firefighters from different departments.
The Bottom Line
Yes, firefighters can wear glasses, but if required, they need to be prepared to make some changes to their vision.
If a firefighter’s visual condition doesn’t disqualify them from the service, they will be allowed to wear their glasses.
However, they need to ensure that their frames don’t affect their mask while on the job.
Getting a custom mask that fits over your glasses is a great investment, as is purchasing a shield with the same prescription as your glasses.
If you wear contacts, ask your department about their own rules surrounding lenses. Some may be more strict than others, so it’s best to be safe than sorry.