Traumatic Brain Injuries: Risks, Treatment and Prevention

By Alexander Peter Ruckh, FASNY Health and Wellness Committee

The FASNY Health and Wellness Committee would like to remind FASNY members of the correlation between winter fire/EMS operations and TBIs, or traumatic brain injuries.

If you watch football, you know that traumatic brain injuries are a very hot topic. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has his hands full with this. Or if you are in the military or a family member of someone in the military, you may know all too well the unfortunate outcome of TBIs from IED blasts.

So what is a TBI exactly? The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states a TBI is caused by a bump, blow or jolt to the head, or a penetrating head injury that disrupts the normal function of the brain.

Not all blows or jolts to the head result in a TBI. The severity of a TBI may range from “mild” (i.e. a brief change in mental status or consciousness) to “severe” (i.e. an extended period of unconsciousness or memory loss after the injury). Most TBIs that occur each year are mild. These are commonly called concussions.

The job of a first responder is dangerous enough, but now add winter conditions to causes of injuries or death and getting a TBI is most likely an outcome.

So what if I do slip on ice and hit my head on a call? What are some symptoms of a TBI/concussion?

Symptoms Include:

* Amnesia
* Confusion
* Headache
* Loss of consciousness
* Balance problems or dizziness
* Double or fuzzy vision
* Sensitivity to light
* Nausea
* Feeling sluggish
* Concentration or memory problems
* Slow reaction times

What should you do if you suspect a TBI?

Don’t hide it.

Report it to your chain of command. Your officer needs to know if one of his firefighters is hurt and out of the fight. You are no good to the mission if you are stumbling around the fireground with blurred vision.

Get checked out.

Find that EMS provider on the scene or call one in and get looked at.


With this type of injury, your brain needs time to recover. If one does not allow the brain heal, a repeat injury becomes more likely.

How can you prevent TBIs?

Slow down.

Assume everything is icy and slippery. Speed and ice don’t mix. Speeding to that fire in your truck or POV will just get you hurt.

Wear your helmet.

At least if you slip, fall or get struck, your head is protected.

Use common sense.

This is the best advice that gets left behind most often. Bring it to all calls.