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University of Texas receives $1.5 million grant to address volunteer firefighter health issues

The University of Texas (UT) Health Science Center at Houston has received nearly $1.5 million in preparedness funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to address the health of volunteer firefighters.

The UT Health Science Center at Houston will use the FEMA Fire Prevention and Safety (FP&S) grant to assess the effectiveness of an Internet-based firefighter health and wellness program for volunteer fire departments. A national sample of volunteer fire departments will be recruited for a six-month-long study that will focus on nutrition and fitness for the firefighters. Modifications will be made to the program based on the study findings.

The U.S. Fire Administration (USFA) has tracked the number of firefighter fatalities and conducted an annual analysis for 36 years. Through the collection of information on the causes of firefighter deaths, the USFA is able to focus on specific problems and direct efforts toward finding solutions to reduce the number of firefighter fatalities. This information is also used to measure the effectiveness of current programs directed toward firefighter health and safety.

According to FEMA, in 2012 there were 81 firefighter fatalities in the U.S., including 28 career firefighters, 42 volunteer firefighters, and 11 members of wildland fire agencies. The 42 volunteer firefighter deaths including 21 from rural fire departments and 21 from urban/suburban fire departments. The deaths resulted during different types of duties, including training, responding to fires, fireground operations, on-scene nonfire, after the incident, returning from incident, and other on-duty responsibilities.

“Volunteer firefighters are integral to the firefighting profession and to the communities they support,” said FEMA Region 6 Administrator Tony Robinson. “We are proud to be a part of this important effort to boost their health and well-being."

A volunteer firefighter works part-time or on-call and may have other jobs. Although they are volunteers, employers may pay them as employees when they respond to an emergency or participate in training drills, according to the Social Security Administration.

FP&S grants are part of the Assistance to Firefighters Grant program, grants that support projects to enhance the safety of the public and protect firefighters from fire and related hazards. The primary goal is to reduce injury and prevent death among high-risk populations. In 2005, Congress reauthorized funding for FP&S and expanded the eligible uses of funds to include Firefighter Safety Research and Development.


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