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Sound the alarm: Health and safety risks associated with alarm response for salaried and retained metropolitan firefighters
Responding to an emergency alarm poses a significant risk to firefighters’ health and safety, particularly to cardiovascular health, physical and psychological stress, and fatigue. These risks have been largely categorised for salaried firefighters working ‘on station’. Less is known about the factors that contribute to these risks for the vast number of non-salaried personnel who serve in retained roles, often deploying from home. The present study investigated the alarm response procedure for Australian metropolitan fire fighters, identifying common and divergent sources of risk for salaried and retained staff. There were significant differences in procedure between the two workgroups and this resulted in differences in risk profile between groups. Sleep and fatigue, actual response to the alarm stimulus, work-life balance and trauma emerged as sources of risk experienced differently by salaried and retained firefighters. Key findings included reports of fatigue in both groups, but particularly in the case of retained firefighters who manage primary employment as well as their retained position. This also translated into a poor sense of work-life balance. Both groups reported light sleep, insufficient sleep or fragmented sleep as a result of alarm response. In the case of salaried firefighters, this was associated with being woken on station when other appliances are called. There were risks from physical and psychological responses to the alarm stimulus, and reports of sleep inertia when driving soon after waking. The findings of this study highlight the common and divergent risks for these workgroups, and could be used in the ongoing management of firefighters’ health and safety.