Growing concern over firefighter health and safety

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TUCSON, Ariz. -- Firefighters put themselves in danger to save lives and our communities. But one group is focusing on how to keep these public servants healthy and safe.

Northwest Fire gives a presentation on the agency's response to the January 8 shootings, but this is not a lesson on response time or technique, it's about being safe.

"The greatest risk to firefighters is heart attack cardiac disease,"  said Division Chief of Training and Chairman of the Pima Interagency Training Committee Kelly McCoy.

High stress, heavy gear and harsh conditions can cause firefighters to die on the fire lines. A recent study reveals a hidden risk for those battling fires in our communities and wild-lands.

"We're talking about firefighter cooling because one of the risk factors is basically having a high core temperature that firefighters absorb from the internal environment," said McCoy.

Researchers continue to uncover the factors that lead to these deaths. Whether it's the wallow fire or a case of violence that rocks the community, some firefighters experience an emotional reaction that is hard to shake.

"We want to make sure that their mind set is in the game," said Cynthia Dowdall from Behavioral Health and Community Services.

Mental health is another concern. Experts say firefighters can suffer feelings of loss and extreme pressure.

"Community members who lose their homes that's devastating to firefighters because they want to do all they can to save those homes, in mass casualty shootings firefighters want to save as many lives as they possibly can," said Dowdall.

There are resources such as peer counseling to treat firefighters traumatized by their work.

Helping the community is a stressful and physically demanding job and now firefighters are putting a spotlight on protecting themselves.

Saturday's program was part of the 5th Annual Southern Arizona National Fallen Firefighter Foundation Safety Seminar.