Answering the Call for Winter Wellness

( Provided by the FASNY Health and Wellness Committee )

0030 hours, December 31, 2001.

On a bitterly cold night, you just came home from celebrating the new year and got into your nice, warm bed. Instead, the call comes over: “6500: Signal 10 House Fire, Code 91.”

You throw the covers off, jump out of bed and into your pants lying on the chair next to you. Throwing the blue light on in your truck, you race to the firehouse.

The firemen pile into the firehouse, don their gear and take the first engine out. Blaring lights and sirens screaming, you ride the back of the engine like a bull just released into the fighting ring. Your heart is racing, adrenaline rushing through your veins as its one of your own that is in danger. The road, it is a sheet of ice, and the engine slides as the massive truck makes its turn.

The chief’s voice bellows over the radio, “Pick up the hydrant!” on the corner of Schiller and Park. You jump off the truck while it’s still speeding down the road, trying not to fall or slip on the snow and ice.

The air is frigid and the sleet is coming down hard. You land on one knee, snap the coupling onto the hydrant and twist to lock. The hose is drawn near to the house and “WATER!” is screamed out. The flat hose quickly fills with water and the scene is a full-out working house fire. A friend’s home is engulfed in flames and you feel like your heart is going to beat out of your chest.

This is a familiar scene for many firefighters. The common denominator noted here is the physical demands on a firefighter’s body. These stresses are the call of duty. The job duties entail lifting, bending, twisting, pushing, pulling, climbing, crawling, jumping and running – all in extreme environments and conditions.

Firefighters are susceptible to injuries in many ways and not just in the line of duty. Just like fetching a cat out of a tree, a firefighter’s altruistic nature might land you shoveling out your neighbor.

Each year, more than 11,000 people go to the hospital due to this strenuous activity. While the majority of injuries that occur are musculoskeletal in nature, one can also suffer from cardiac issues.

If you have pre-existing orthopedic injuries, are elderly, or have a history of coronary or peripheral artery disease, you should hire someone to do your snow removal. Not only is the act of shoveling harmful, but the cold temperatures can cause injury as well. Cold temperatures cause the arteries to constrict and may cause muscles to spasm, predisposing you to a heart attack and orthopedic injuries.

Following these tips can help you avoid injuries:

  • If there is going to be copious amounts of snowfall, you may want to shovel in increments to avoid lifting heavy loads.
  • Warm up with dynamic stretching prior to activity. The use of a foam roller will work well. Simply moving your arms and legs will do as well.
  • Using a snow blower may seem to be a better option than a shovel. You still have to be careful, as the activity of pushing and pulling can also harm your back and arms. When doing this activity, make sure you don’t twist your body. When turning the blades, make sure you bend at the hips and knees versus arching over with your back.
  • If you are going to manually shovel, utilize something ergonomic. This type of shovel will have a shaft that allows you to keep your back straight. Look for a shovel with a longer shaft so as not to have to bend more to lift the snow.
  • Use proper body mechanics. Bend your knees and lift with your legs rather than your back. Bring the shovel as close to your body as you can when lifting. It is much harder to lift heavy loads when they are further away from your body.
  • Step into the direction you are throwing the snow so as not to twist your back.
  • Take frequent breaks.
  • Always statically stretch after your activity.