Toxins | Firefighters Chemical Exposure

"There was never any one incident in which exposure on the job left me debilitated."


Captain Howard

Firefighters - Are You Exposed to Chemicals?

Firefighters are exposed to airborne chemicals and particles at many locations they attend.

Toxins can linger on their suits and equipment. The health and overall well-being of firefighters, police officers, and other emergency personnel have been affected by exposure to toxic substances.

The toxic dust, fumes and vapour that arises from a fire contain hundreds of different toxic chemicals, including dioxins, PCBs, asbestos, silica, benzene, manganese, chromium, lead, mercury, nickel, oxides of nitrogen, sulphur, etc.

Crews can spend hours containing spills and fires. Firefighters wear self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) as part of their protective gear. The smoke and vapors are very dense and engulf all EMS crews, even those who do not have breathing apparatus.

Firefighters will move to a "safe zone" to remove SCBA, although continue to wear other gear, which is covered in toxins.

Firefighters Their Stories

Randy Gomm

Detoxification from fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome:  Randy Gomm in Vancouver.  His life was turned around by detoxification.  As a firefighter, his health had begun to deteriorate until he was no longer able to work.  He was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, and eventually it was realized that the root of his problem was toxic overload from occupational exposure.

During the eight years he was ill, he says, he had a lot of time to research alternative modalities to regain his health.  “I discovered that leading researchers in fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome stated that their patients had high toxic loads," says Randy.  "When their toxic loads were reduced, their symptoms often improved dramatically.  Using the Relax Portable Infrared Sauna worked for me. Detoxing really helped put me back on my feet."

Captain Howard

Has been a firefighter for over 30 years.  Says he didn’t experience any acute exposure during chemical emergencies. “There was never any one incident in which exposure on the job left me debilitated.”

However, Captain Howard suffered from chronic low-level toxic exposure.

  • He experience blinding headaches for no reason at all. He would even wake from a deep sleep with them.
  • He had terrible skin rashes on his legs.
  • Feel extreme fatigue in the early morning.

“I became concerned that I would not be healthy for my retirement years.”

David Werner 

Experienced five years of suffering and frustration. He left the hospital feeling only slightly ill; throat irritation, a mild cough, fatigue, and some lack of coordination and concentration.

Physical Symptoms

As time went on, however, these symptoms began to get worse:

  • His cough become much more severe.
  • He would have coughing fits to the point of straining chest muscles.
  • His head constantly pounded, and his ears buzzed for over four years.
  • And he got sick often with colds.
  • When he would cut or bruise, he would not heal as quickly.  
  • Rashed appeared more frequently and would scar as they healed.
  • My hands and feet often went numb.
  • If I bent my arm at the elbow, I would lose feeling in the arm complete.
  • I would fatigue easily and regularly have to take a nap during the day.

“Basically, all of my free time was spent sleeping, if I didn’t sleep, I would walk around like I was drugged.”

“My legs would feel as sore as if I had just run a marathon in my sleep,” states Howard. “For periods of one to two months at a clip, my legs would ache when I awoke; they were just beat. 

Cognitive Issues

Werner also suffered through many cognitive problems. He would forget integral pieces of information.

  • Hydraulic pressures.
  • Street locations that are critical to know during an emergency.
  • There were times when I would even forget my own phone number.
  • Once, I even forgot how to tell time.
  • Werner also suffered through many cognitive problems. He would forget integral pieces of information.
  • Quite often I couldn't remember what I was talking about.

"My concentration was crippled. My mind would wander aimlessly between spurts of attention.

Mood Swings

Werner also suffered periods of extreme irritability. Although he describes himself as a kickback kind of guy. There was a tremendous amount of stress to the job. "There were also times when I would have temper flare-ups over little things that shouldn’t have bothered me. All of a sudden, I would become very irrational and be tremendously irritated; and, just as quickly, it would pass and I would be very embarrassed.”

Search for a Cure

Werner went from specialist to specialist but received no relief. Most could find nothing wrong with him and some even attributed his problems to psychosomatic illness.

"That was the most frustrating thing; knowing I was sick and knowing how and when it happened, yet having the experts tell me that I was not sick because nothing was confirmed by their tests.”

"It just seemed as though my whole immune system was breaking down and going haywire,” states Werner. “Gradually it affected my entire body; every joint felt inflamed.”

Frustrated with the physicians, Werner began researching the subject of chemical toxicity. He discovered that 1,2 dichloropropane was not the only substance to which he had been exposed. He had been exposed to a number of reaction by-products while standing in the “safe zone” which complicated the situation. When a doctor would treat me, he would look in his books for the proper course of action for exposure to 1,2 dichloropropane, he would not look into the other chemicals that I was exposed to.”

Physicians Diagnosis and Treatment

"A major part of the problem is that most doctors have not been adequately educated in the diagnosis and treatment of chemical exposure cases," says Dr. James Dahlgren, an assistant professor at UCLA and medical director of Pacific Toxicology Laboratories where human tissue samples are analyzed for chemical contamination. “Modern lab techniques allow us to pinpoint almost any kind of toxic chemical in the body. Fortunately, an increasing number of physicians now recognize the often puzzling nature of chemically related ailments and are using clinical labs as a diagnostic tool.”

Unlike Werner, Captain Howard’s symptoms developed over a period of many years and illustrate how truly insidious is the problem of chemical buildup in the body. Whereas Werner was chemically galvanized into defending his health against one unmistakable opponent, Howard was slowly and covertly ground into a state of unrelenting malaise by an invisible enemy.

Treatment

The detoxification technique adopted by physicians at the HealthMed Clinic, a medical facility with clinics in Los Angeles and Sacramento, CA., which has treated over 1,200 persons using the regimen, including a number of firefighters. Firefighter Werner entered the treatment program nearly five years after his initial exposure. While going through the treatment, he experienced several manifestations of his exposure-related problems. His headaches and foot pains would appear and disappear while in the sauna. His skin rashes and assorted pains and ailments all came back. And just as mysteriously as they would appear, they would disappear.

HealthMed’s Los Angeles Medical Director, Dr. Megan Shields, explains this phenomenon: “As stored substances move into circulation and are eliminated from the body, people commonly re-experience symptoms associated with the chemical exposure. This discomfort seems to signal a marked change in health status and is usually followed by the rapid diminution or, in some cases, the complete disappearance of the symptoms.”

Gradually, Werner’s health improved and by the end of the treatment period (27 days for Werner) most of his symptoms were either entirely gone or greatly improved.

“After the program, I felt fantastic,” declares Werner. “I feel 100% better. The thing that I notice the most is that I do not feel that I am constantly under the influence of toxins in my body. I feel more alert and aware of my surroundings.”

Captain Howard’s experience was very similar. While in the sauna he experienced severe headaches which would go away while he was still in the sauna. Another manifestation was skin rashes. His thighs were covered from back to front with this rash.

“They really came out while I was in the sauna,” states Howard. “I would get huge welts which were extremely painful. A week later they would be gone. This problem is now much, much lighter, not like it was before.”

After completing the program, Howard also stated that he was less fatigued and irritable. “I have a general feeling of well being, and I feel more alert and clearheaded.” Chief Girod, whose report prompted Howard to take action and who lectures widely on hazardous materials in firefighting suggests that “Firefighters at risk of high exposure to toxic materials should be periodically tested so that we can adequately monitor their intake and accumulation of chemicals. Where levels are high, an effective detoxification procedure is certainly warranted.”

Summary - Detoxify at Home

Studies done by physicians, including HealthMed found patients have been able to discontinue, without ill effect, all medications previously prescribed to treat symptoms from toxins.  FAR Infrared Therapy was provided in a Portable Sit Sauna used in detoxification treatment and brought substantial release of symptoms and helped return the individual to gainful employment.

With the increasing number of synthetics, polymers, and chemicals being incorporated into every aspect of daily life, the threat of harm to the health of the firefighter is growing.  The problem is one of both acute exposures and gradual accumulation of toxic substances throughout a career.  

The stories of Captain Howard and Firefighter Werner are more common than one would like to think and demonstrate well the complexity of the toxic dilemma.

Physicians and scientists agree that one is a lot better off without a heavy toxic body burden.  Our clinical observations certainly support this, and that’s quite encouraging.

Toxicity is a part of life, whether you provide EMS services or not. Preventing toxicity in your body should be an investment in your health. Purchase a quality Relax Portable Sauna for your home, and use it.

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