Fire Department Physicals and what age should you change from interior to exterior

I have to ask this question and this is why. Last night we had our yearly department physicals. We ran the gambit of fit testing, the breathing test, eye exam, hearing test, EKG and physical exam.

Everything went as normal for me, I filled out the normal papers and then I started going through the stations. Vision which was pretty normal, oh yes they asked for a urine sample. Nothing serious they just check and make sure there are no abnormalities in it. Did my hearing test, it was painless. Then the dreaded fit test. It really isn’t all that bad but, this year it seems that I had to readjust my mask something like 5 times. Well it seems that I have lost weight (which I knew I had), it seems this weight loss has caused it so that I may need to get an even smaller mask. I wear a small now, so I will have to go to an extra small if I have problems. I did finally pass the fit test. I then went to the breathing test and that one I truly hate. Having to blow 3 times into a machine till you just about pass out is a killer. Now I know what you have to go thru when they want a breathalyzer when you get pulled over for a DWI, LOL. Next was the EKG, this was easy and nothing out of the ordinary there. The nurse took my blood pressure and pulse because that wasn’t done yet. Blood pressure was a little high, but I was laying on my back for the EKG and I hadn’t had dinner as of yet. Last but not least, the physical. It is painless. She checked my heart and listened to my lungs. Normal as I suspected. The PA finished and she checked my other test and said that everything was good. She said that my high pitch hearing is not good and asked if it was affecting my job performance or if I noticed anything. I said no. She asked if I had eaten today, I said breakfast and that was it. Then my blood pressure was taken. I was asked what it is normally and I told her the last one taken, which was just a week before was 118/68. It ended up being 120/68 which is really good for me. The PA stated that my blood pressure was high when the nurse took but she was happy it went down. So was I. No big deal. I passed my physical.

This is where my question comes in. The PA then says that this is where she gives her big speech. I am 42 and I have been an interior firefighter for 17+ years. She says to me that I should start thinking about becoming an exterior firefighter. I was like, “What?” She said that I am getting older and really should think about the fact that I don’t need to be interior anymore at my age. I told her I would think about it.

I did think about it on the way home from the firehouse and this is what I said. “Hell no, I am going to be interior till I am physically unable to do it anymore. I am more than capable and unless a doctor says otherwise I am not changing that status.” I have to say I don’t see myself as old.

This was a complete blow to me. I can see saying “hey, I can’t pass you to be interior because of the test results, but I can clear you for exterior.” That is fine. I guess she feels she needs to make the suggestion.

Don’t get me wrong, one thing for sure I am out of shape and overweight (not by a huge amount but still over weight). I have lost 22 pounds finally. I was 225 and am now 203. I am very proud of that, it has taken a long time to lose that weight. I am using the treadmill and doing everything I can to get back into shape. I feel much better already with just that. Keeping myself in shape and healthy is a big thing. I think unless you fail the interior part of the physical and the doctor says you can’t do this part anymore. They aren’t going to pass you for interior if you fail that part of the physical. At least the group we use wont.

So, I guess what I am asking is this. What age should you as an interior firefighter think about changing to an exterior firefighter? Just wondering what you all think…

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Comment by FETC on January 30, 2009 at 1:08pm
You either pass the department physical or not, there is no such thing as an interior physical or an exterior physical examination.

Sometimes people need to retire, even though they "feel" they are willing to respond and be an exterior help, but if they are unfit for duty, then they are a risk to the department. Imagine having a guy drive the engine to a fire and he or she suffers a heart attack along the way and the crew dies in the wreck. If your department told him because of the results of your physical we want you to stay on as an exterior guy, just drive/pump.... I am sure the families of the dead firefighters will really respect that decision and I would be the first to suggest lawyering up on the town for big $$$.

This is a young firefighters game...
Comment by Joey "BigShow" De Piano on January 29, 2009 at 9:20pm
Tough call brother..I am 45 and I am fit enough that at my physical the Doc said "your built like a 30 yrold and my heart was a even stronger" my interior days go on...I have had taught and guys 20yo have passed out or walked away after one of my who really says but you..if you believe they are wrong prove it and get in better shape..(no idea if you are or aren't just saying)..but since we are considered employees of the town the age limit to do your job is the same as the DPW if you wanna fight it you can fr discrimination but make sure you can do a spot physical test of luck
Comment by morris washburn on January 29, 2009 at 11:55am
I am not aliability yet ! But I know my limitations . Iam clostiphobic, so the mask is out !! I have a bum knee ,so crawling around is out !! so I put myself on the small back burnere for now !! But we run w/ a small dept . anyway ,lucky if we get 5-9 ppl. I feel If I have to go in I will ,but the use with out a scba !! Is kinda dumb . but here we dont use them much . We might be lucky to save a frame or 2 . LOL I would say if there is no sop then its you'r decision to stop . Oh yes I am overweight also so I know when to say NO !! Good luck and stay safe .
Comment by Kimberly A Bownas on January 28, 2009 at 10:57am
Thanks Beverly, I agree with you and the reason I posted this discussion was because it just threw me for a loop. I had never been told that I should think about going exterior because of my age. It blew my mind and I was curious what everyone's opinion on this is. Thanks again for your take on it....
Comment by Beverly on January 28, 2009 at 9:55am
Some people believe their opinion is the right answer and forget that ALL bodies are different. It goes back to the "treat the patient, not the machine" theory. What is normal for one person is not necessarily normal for others and machines (EKG's, PFTs) are just tools, the patient should be evaluated on what is normal for them, not what standards say the results should be.
For example, my Mom has BPs that normally run 90/60, when her BP at the MDs was 118/86 the nurse said "That's great!" despite my best attempts to get her to understand that this is abnormal for my Mom. Fortunately I know her MD professionally and he waited a while and took it again and it was back down to normal, 92/64...must have been a case of "white coat syndrome". While it seems I digressed it is to point out that you know your body and what is normal for you. So, if you feel "normal" while doing interior work than that is the best guideline you can have to judge your abilities.
If I can digress one more time: I have picked up plenty of patients in cardiac arrest only to have their spouse/family/friends say..."He/She just saw the doctor today/yesterday and was told everything was fine." ...Put that in your machine and smoke it folks!
Comment by Engineco913 on January 27, 2009 at 10:59pm
On a posative note, Joe left out his colonoscopy. I agree with the majority in saying that these doctors are making educated guesses. If you passed the testing, your fit for duty
Comment by Joe Stoltz on January 27, 2009 at 8:33pm
"A man's got to know his limitations."
Comment by Kimberly A Bownas on January 27, 2009 at 8:15pm
LMAO, Art you are just too much.
Comment by Joe Stoltz on January 27, 2009 at 8:14pm
Art, I can't comment on anything other than the prescription insert, and I had to fork over the $$ out of my own pocket for them.

I took the cheap way out and had only the distance part of my prescription put in... no need for bifocals when wearing a face piece. :o)
Comment by Art "ChiefReason" Goodrich on January 27, 2009 at 7:51pm
So, do you get a better seal on your mask if you take your teeth out or leave them in?
Will your hairpiece stay in place when you pull your hood up?
Will Medi-Care pay for your prescription insert for your SCBA mask?
I also heard that the folks at the senior citizen center get downright crazy over "mature firefighters".

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