Firefighter -- like doctor or astronaut or princess -- is one of those jobs kindergartners declare as their dream career. Fire, saving people, an awesome uniform, a Dalmatian and a cool, loud truck? Sign 'em up.
Those are indeed part of being a firefighter, but the job has far more to it than that: late nights, extreme stress and the very real possibility of injury and death.
About 81,070 firefighter injuries are reported each year in the United States [source: U.S. Fire Administration]. Most of them occur in structure fires, and the most common causes are overexertion, exposure to hazards, falls and vehicle collisions traveling to and from the fire incident.
But the most common cause of a firefighter's death isn't a fall through a burning roof. It's sudden cardiac death.
Some of the causes of heart attacks have nothing to do with occupation, but are instead attributed to causes such as family history, age and gender. Firefighters are exposed to smoke containing carbon monoxide, hydrogen cyanide and particulate matter, which are all known to have effects on the heart. Other factors that may contribute are the sweating and fluid loss that occur during an incident, and also the quick switches between downtime at the station and heavy physical exertion [source: NIOSH].
It's a firefighter's job to enter to the place everyone else wants to flee. The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks resulted in the deaths of 343 firefighters and paramedics. See this story in The New York Times for their faces and names.
Want to learn more about dangerous jobs that may send you to the ER? We've got lots more information on the next page.