Wellness program continues for firefighters

Photo by Casey Dixon

Photo by Casey Dixon

ALBANY -- Those who are constantly putting their very being on the line for the residents of Albany are continuing to receive some help from health care professionals on how to better take care of themselves.

The fourth session of "Fired Up for Fitness," a wellness program designed for personnel associated with the Albany Fire Department, kicked off with a class at the Jackson Street Fire Station in downtown Albany Tuesday.

At the lecture, which is continuing today, firefighters are being given insight on how to better manage stress on the job by Dr. Angela Dawson, a psychiatrist with Phoebe Behavioral Health Center.

"(Firefighters) give an awful lot to the community," Dawson said. "Anything we can do to help them is something that benefits us all."

The stress that is part of being a firefighter can be unique, which has a lot to do with seeing things on a daily basis that most people would not want to come across in their lifetime.

"You have an uncontrollable situation where you have to put your human emotions aside," Dawson said to the AFD personnel present.

While hearing some of the concerns specific to firefighters, Dawson addressed how to deal with waiting 24 hours for a call to come through that might ultimately endanger the lives of a crew.

"Not everyone has that degree of social responsibility," she said.

The burden firefighters face can have an influence on their health in a number of ways, including disruption of sleep.

"You have to somehow accommodate to an impossible sleep cycle," Dawson told the firefighters. "Sleep deprivation does an undue amount (of damage) to your body. These things are unique; you live a very abnormal situation."

In order to channel the stress, one of the suggestions Dawson made was for firefighters to possibly find something outside of the station to occupy their time.

"These are the things you will do to (pursue) a sense of fulfillment," she said. "Structure time so those activities don't run into other things. It helps to have the time to do things for you."

The session was part of an ongoing series, which began in October 2009 and will continue over the next several months, to help firefighters achieve their fitness goals and meet occupational requirements. Other topics being taught include prescription drug management, food and nutrition, and exercise.

The firefighters say they've gotten a lot out of the series so far.

"Our profession is one of the most stressful in the country," said Albany Fire Chief James Carswell. "How we deal with stress affects our overall health. We are trying to give employees a tool to deal with these things."

Carswell said that those attending the sessions often share the information with others, which is evidence of the impact the series is having.

"They're interested," he said. "That is one of the first parts in getting (issues) out in the open."

The session on prescription drug management will be held next month. AFD personnel will be undergoing physical assessments in the near future, said Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital Community Benefits Coordinator Darrell Sabbs.