I have been trying to find out where the early age retirement for firefighters came from, what was the bases for it, what created its evolution into todays early age retirement?  Was it medical issues, was it the ability to do the job, what drove retirrment in this direction.  Our department has been trying to to find these answers to this and other related issues. Let me know.  Don Zimmerman

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Don, I think "early retirement age" isn't the most accurate term for your question. "Early" implies a premature returement. In the case of firefighters, a premature retirement is generally for either a medical condition or work injury that prevents the firefighter from physically being able to do the job. Working to full retirement shouldn't be termed "early", no matter how many years it takes to earn that retirement.

That said, here is a combination of factors for the shorter number of years that firefighters typically have to work prior to retirement, and as with most things in the fire service, it's based upon history.

Back in the day, firefighters worked long hours - sometimes only a day or two off per month. The pay was classically very low. Even today, many fire departments pay is so low that firefighters must work a second or third job if they want their family to have a decent, middle-class standard of living.

Add the fact that breathing apparatus were not in common use in the early to mid 1970's, and even then it was seen as a sign of weakness to actually use them. (I was called a coward and worse by an old-school chief for wearing a SCBA back then. I didn't wear SCBA consistently, and now I really, really wish I had.) The smoke eating led to chronic job-acquired respiratory and cardiac disease, hypertension, and cancers that tremendously shortened firefighters' lives.

The combination of those two factors led to a defined-benefit retirement after 25 (or in some cases, 20) years in recompense for the firefighters recognized shorter lives, job-acquired poor health, and low pay during their working years.

Added to this is the fact that there is a long tradition of former military people in the fire service, and many of them rose to become fire chiefs. Those chiefs tended to be very dependent upon a militaristic leadership style. The military has a "move up or move out" mentality that some of those chiefs adopted. This meant that if you got old and didn't make it to a chief officer rank, you were forced to retire to open up a slot for a younger and not-yet-physically-wrecked new firefighter.

One of the factors was that when all firefighters did was play checkers and feed the Dalmation, once they earned enough longevity, their salary really started to cost the city. It was cheaper to retire them and hire a new firefighter who made much less money. Then the EMS call volumes started to go insane in the 1980's, and the wear and tear on the firefighter's bodies started accelerating.

One of the departments where I was employed in the 1980's had some startling stats. The average life span of our post-retirement firefighters was 4 years! We had a maximum entry-level hire age of the 31st birthday, so a 25-year retirement meant that by the time you were 56, you retired. Back then, 1/2 of our firefighters did not survive to age 60. It was reasonable to provide a short enough retirement that the guys weren't dying on the job. I didn't pay a lot of attention to the statistics back then, because, of course, I thought I was going to live forever.

The bottom line is that firefighting makes you old in a hurry, it tears up your body, no one can do it forever.
Much of this is what we knew but trying to find documented evidence to explain this is proving to be interesting. I will add this info to the Chief to see if it changes the white paper he is working on. The worst part is the more 60s to now info on the retirement. One would think there would be info out on the web that discussed the medical and physicl issues of what doing this job does to the body, it seems to nearly be invisible to find, but we will keep looking. Thanks
Don, you might want to check with the people that run fire pension boards and with the insurance agencies that estimate life expectancy as a predictor of costs and insurance premiums in addition to checking with firefighters.

You're might have some difficulty getting study-driven answers to your "why" question.
For decades, it was just understood "That's the way we do it." and no real explanations were ever documented in a lot of cases.
If "this is just the way" we did it back then, then maybe it is high time to write something that discusses today's realities not yesterdays. Though the LODD are "only" about 100 per year, what are the 10 yrs prior to retirement and the 5, 10, 15, 20 yrs after retirement when measured against the mostly desk jobs to today. I am going to kick this to my chief but I sure want to be reading what we all might find, could be a horrible reality check. I use myself as example: 30 yrs FS, 21 as volunteer, 11 years SWAT team nuclear security (Hanford DOE). Results: left knee surgery one and right knee December 07 had surgery 4 total knee replacement. Would a computer propgrammer type have had the same sort of injuries that could knock him out of his job at age 55 because he could not pass his physical fitness test every year. Zimm
Yeah it beats you up, and once you get to those middle ages, stuff really starts to hurt, and wear on you. Like knee's, shoulders, etc. Of course, the same applies for other manual labor-type professions as well. Lime masonary, roofing, etc.

I truely believe firefighting IS a young persons job. Save the older, wiser, more experienced jakes on the job for supervisory positions.

Having said that, knowing what is involved with this occupation, and the fact that some of us will still be working in our 40's, 50's, even 60's, it is extremely important to remain active, and engage in regular exercise and fitness and health programs.
I think a big part of it is strong unions that have been able to fight for such benefits in many places.

I know that law enforcement types have been able to get full retirement early in my state when compared to other government employees for no real justifiable reason because they have very strong lobbying groups.

But, I agree with Don Z that what is important is the current justification and whether or not it makes sense. The powers that be don't care why someone that held their job 40 years ago made a decision, they just care about the situation they're facing.
Don,

I am curious why are you looking to justify the early retirement stature with evidence for your chief? What is your current retirement age? I see you list industrial dept in your profile.

Many states have changed to a 25 or 30 year service minimum for retirement. My state is still 20 years service at 45 years old and every year we have to fight off the politicians for extending the years of service.

I am with Ben, the average life expectancy back in the day was 4 years post retirement. That said, the advent of SCBA has changed the mortality rate of lung cancer, but we have new concerns now.

Prostrate, Testicular and Colon Cancer are at an all time high in the active fire service, due to the chemicals now found in the smoke. Our SCBA has solved the lung exposures, but our gear that provides incredible thermal protection has provided less than adequate barrier protection from the new chemical threat with absorbtion. After a job, the next two or three days we can still smell the fire in the shower... we are not washing it off, we are sweating that shit out of our pores from absorbtion exposure.

Not to mention our profession, is killing us a little bit everyday. Poor eating habits, lack of sleep with shift work, 24's or days and nights, and the chronic and acute stress of the emergencies is killing us just as much today as it did decades ago. Yes some will live a very long and healthy retirement, but in reality that is not the norm.
I'm not sure where it came from, contact the IAFF and see what they say. Like the military this is a young persons job. I have been doing it for 36 years and will retire in June. My body aches all over. I can't wait to feel rested and I plan to get back into shape. We work 24 hour shifts with very little sleep. I am constantly exhausted. I won't miss getting up several times each night.
Current retirement is 62, we are part of the contract that provides infrastructure to the Hanford DOE Site in Washington. I work for a private company. Should you choose to early out there is a .5% penalty per month prior to age 62. As is right now I would take a 30% hit on whatever my retirement is projected to be then.

I agree the SCBA and PPE innovation have really cut the death in injury rate down and that will likely continue, but now a new twist is added with fitness testing. It is beginning to force people out that in the past stayied until 62, now they are out with no options other than what they have right now. Options are being created to adjust to that but a long term fix might be early age out retirement.
The entire culture of employment has changed in the last couple of decades in America and very few people coming into the workforce plan to work for a single employer, and do a single job, for an entire career.

Today many people who came into the workforce at age 18 in the late 80's and early 90's are looking to change-up their career, and lifestyles, as they reach or near middle-age. Many 20-25 year Firefighters are looking to start their own businesses, or expand their second job into a full-time enterprise with set weekends and hopefully better pay.

Like Ben said, many Fire Departments don't pay enough for most Firefighters to live a nice middle class lifestyle, and with people having kids much later then in the past, many 40-50 year-old Firefighters have young children and would rather pursue the middle class lifestyle than stay in a low-paying profession which isn't very well respected by their employers in many cities.

Outside of Firefighting, the average American Worker only spends an average of something like seven years with the same employer nowadays before they seek a new job. That's why 401(k)'s have replaced pension plans as the main retirement planning tool in America.

Greenman
Well, I'm late to this discussion, but I will add some stats from Miami-Dade FD that may help here in the discussion!
As of todays date, we have had 255 deaths since 1952, of which we have tracked the causes for 209 of them! The other 46 deaths are missing some type of info, i.e: prior to record keeping, the cause, date of death, date of retirement, age, etc so have been excluded from all stats.
Of those 209 deaths, 35% (72) were due to Cancer, 19% (due to Cardiac and 8 % each for self-inflicted and MVAs.
Next number: 31% NEVER MADE it to RETIREMENT! including 23 LODD's
Next stat: 39% never made their 10th year POST-RETIREMENT
Worst stat: 46% NEVER SAW THEIR 60th BIRTHDAY!
Causes of death within the first 5 years of retirement (17) total: 11 (64%) due to cancer, 3 (18%) due to self-inflicted, 2 (12%) due to cardiac, and 1 due to a CVA.
Deaths broken down by ages; 20's=6, 30's=18, 40's=18, 50's=45, 60's=46, 70's=38, and 80's=20.
For those interested in checking whether Cancer or Cardiac is the leading cause of LODD's, and LET'S make an ASSUMPTION that firefighters RETIRE BY THE AGE OF 55, then go to the IAFF website and check all cancer deaths under age of 55, and then do the same for Cardiac. Now do you want to do the same for age 60?
FETC is correct in much of what he states! While we may wear SCBA's more often now, do we do it during overhaul operations? Do we follow NFPA 1851 and clean our PPE after every major usage? Do we take a shower immediately to wash off the carcinogens? Do we have exhaust systems in all stations as per NFPA 1500?
Now we can have a whole different discussion!
Maybe this helps??
Yes on the whole different discussion Keith...

I have a theory to my madness as I do not have time to make it an official study. But our PPE is not protecting us from the TOXINS in the smoke today and we are absorbing super heated toxins through our PPE via our poors. When you take a shower and smell a fire for days.... that is us off gassing and this exposure is what is probably causing the prostate, testicular and colon cancer in the fire service.

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