Can You Be A Firefighter With Asthma?

In today’s times, there is more pollution in the air than ever before. The rates may be higher or lower depending where you live in the world, but regardless, the worsening air quality surrounding us every day has many effects on our lungs, and our ability to breathe. 

While it is believed that there is a link between air pollution and some respiratory diseases, such as asthma, it is still yet to be completely proven. However, the facts are that cases of asthma seem to be increasing with each generation.

The likelihood is that either you, yourself, suffer with asthma, or you know plenty of people who have asthma. Maybe both. It is a fairly common disease, but thankfully, it is one that most people can manage to live with on a day-to-day basis.

Can You Be A Fireman With Asthma?

Yes, it is a serious illness, but thanks to the medical care that is so easily accessible to us nowadays, it is highly manageable compared to several other disorders related to the respiratory system. 

Having said that, those who suffer from this illness will know that it isn’t easy to live with, and an asthma attack can sneak up on you seemingly out of nowhere, leaving you helpless if you have forgotten your inhaler.

Many factors can set off an asthma attack, depending on the person and their individual triggers: dust, mold, cigarette smoke, or even particularly strong cleaning chemicals. 

So, if so many members of the younger generation are suffering, or will be suffering from asthma in the future, what does that mean if we consider the future generation of firefighters? Can someone join the fire department if they suffer from respiratory diseases? 

Continue reading this article to find out your own chances of becoming a fireman if you, too, suffer from asthma. 

What is Asthma?

So, for those who are unaware of what this illness really is, let’s start with the basics. 

Asthma is a fairly common form of lung disease, one that affects the airways and how a person breathes. While most people develop asthma during infancy and childhood, in rare cases, it can develop during adulthood.

Some people can suffer from asthma when they are children only for it to go away after a certain amount of years, but for many people, this disorder stays for life.

This illness is caused by the inflammation of the airways, making it difficult for the person to breathe efficiently. While the person may be able to live their day-to-day lives without issue, most of the time, asthma symptoms may seemingly appear out of nowhere.

There are often triggers that set the symptoms off, but these triggers can be difficult to identify at times, making the person’s life pretty difficult, living with the knowledge that an asthma attack could happen at any given point.

The main symptoms of asthma to look out for are:

  • Wheezing
  • Coughing
  • Struggling to breathe
  • Having a tight chest

While this disease is technically incurable, there are several treatments that can be used to ease a patient’s symptoms. 

The most commonly used forms of medication are inhalers: small, plastic devices that are placed in the mouth and inhaled while pushing a button, releasing the medicine into the patient’s airways.

There are two types of inhalers: relievers, which are used short-term to quickly relieve symptoms, and preventers, which should be used every day to prevent these symptoms from occurring at all. There are also steroid tablets that can be taken to help soothe and calm the inflamed airways. 

How Badly Does Smoke Affect Someone with Asthma?

There are many triggers that can set off an asthma attack, or even just asthma symptoms, and these triggers vary from person to person.

Some catalysts cannot be avoided or easily prevented, such as suffering from allergies or being exposed to cold air. Strenuous exercise is known to be a common trigger for asthma, meaning that something as simple as taking a brisk walk could set off an attack, or at least, some minor symptoms.

A trigger that can often be avoided is smoke. Asthmatics will usually avoid areas in which there will be an overabundance of smoke in the air, such as bonfires, firework displays or even a lit fireplace.

Smoking cigarettes should also be avoided, as the smoke being inhaled can immediately cause the airways to flare up. Even breathing in secondhand smoke can cause symptoms to surface, meaning that asthmatics should avoid smokers while they are actively smoking a cigarette, for their own safety.

It may seem like certain tragic events could never happen to us, but in rare cases, housefires can start and spread fairly quickly.

In these cases, the smoke that rises from a house in flames is enough to cause any person to struggle to breathe, let alone someone who already suffers from a respiratory disorder.

You see, when smoke enters a healthy pair of lungs, it causes excess mucus to be produced due to the irritation caused. This production of mucus, as well as your airway muscles tightening in an attempt to restrict the intake of smoke, you will begin to cough and splutter, barely being able to breathe.

Inhaling smoke also prevents your blood from carrying oxygen to the parts of your body that need it, including the heart. This will cause chest pain.

Due to lack of oxygen being provided to your cells, and the heavy intake of carbon monoxide, you may suffer from carbon monoxide poisoning: this will cause nausea, headaches, vomiting, and other uncomfortable symptoms.

So, if those are the symptoms of a person with healthy lungs inhaling smoke, how do you imagine a person who already suffers from respiratory issues would handle this scenario?

For an average person with a pair of healthy lungs, it doesn’t take much inhaled smoke to cause discomfort and harm. For someone with asthma, the damage will be caused twice as quickly, and twice as damaging.

Once an asthmatic’s airways have completely closed up, it will take more than a preventer inhaler to reverse any damage done to the lungs. This person will need to receive immediate medical care right away.

Can You Be a Fireman with Asthma?

So, back to the initial question.

In order to become a firefighter, there are several requirements that will need to be met. As I am sure you are aware, being a firefighter is an extremely demanding occupation, and there are many exams and tests that need to be completed before a person can even be considered for the role. Candidates will be expected to complete a written exam and a physical ability test.

In order to become a firefighter, you are in with a good shot if you already have the following:

  • Qualifications (degrees, high school diplomas, etc)
  • A clean criminal record
  • Good physical condition
  • Good mental condition

The second two on the list, ‘good physical condition’ and ‘good mental condition’ will also be tested during the job screening process. It will be at this point, if you haven’t brought it up sooner, that those on the board will learn that you suffer from asthma. 

So, will they allow you to join the fire department if they discover you have asthma?

The answer: it depends.

Having the label of being an asthmatic alone isn’t enough for the board to cancel your application and send you home. So, I suppose the answer to the overall title question is ‘yes’: you can become a firefighter, even if you do suffer from asthma. The diagnosis alone isn’t enough to prevent you from applying for this career. 

Great news!

Should You Be a Fireman with Asthma?

Let’s focus on the third point we mentioned in this list of factors needed to become a fireman: ‘good physical condition’. 

We all know that you must be in pretty good physical shape to join a career in the fire department. This is due to the fact that it is a fairly demanding occupation that requires physical strength, agility, and stamina.

The physical ability test that you will need to partake in will include climbing, heavy lifting, and many other forms of physical activities. Completing these tasks with ease will prove that you are fit and healthy enough to successfully perform within this career.

As we know, strenuous activity can be a major trigger for asthmatics. If you’re lucky enough that you can complete highly active tasks without triggering an asthma attack, you should be able to pass these tests easily, providing that you are also fit and healthy.

If exercise is something that you struggle with, being a firefighter will prove to be extremely difficult.

The second risk to consider is the obvious one: as a fireman, you will be expected to work with large quantities of fire outbreaks.

Of course, extinguishing fires isn’t the only job that firefighters are required to do. In fact, major house and building fires are pretty rare, and so you wouldn’t be expected to fight fires on a regular basis.

Having said this, putting out fires is part of the job, and if you already suffer from having fragile lungs, this may be a particularly dangerous task.

You will need to be able to breathe properly if you want to become a firefighter, and if your asthma proves to be a daily issue for you, it may be best to look into joining another career.

One of the rules stated within the physical exam is the following: ‘candidates can have np reactive airways disease requiring bronchodilator or corticosteroid therapy in the previous 2 years.’

If you suffer from asthma, but it hasn’t proved to have been a problem in the past two years, there should be no issue with you applying for this occupation. If you rely on your inhaler on a daily basis, this could be a major problem within your application.

In the end, it all comes down to the results of your physical tests. You will need to prove that you are not dependent on any medication, including inhalers, for a couple of weeks before the exams.

During the tests, you may be tested on your breathing abilities and how well your lungs work, as well as a specific test that will check your response to cold air. If you fail these, you will not pass. 

In Conclusion...

Overall, it all comes down to how well you do in your tests and exams. If it is proven that your lungs are not working well enough, you will not be able to pass. If it is proven that you are healthy enough, and you pass all the tests, you may be in with a shot.

All you can do is be honest about your medical conditions during the medical examination, and try your hardest during the physical tests. If you find that you are struggling at any point, make sure you stop to rest immediately. No job is worth risking your health, or even your life over. 

Yes, it will be disappointing if you fail, but you must remember that there are so many other careers out there that you will be able to join that you will enjoy equally, and they will be much better for your overall health.