Stories of Hope
Firefighters Put Out Smoking in Their Own Stations
Article date: November 14, 2001
We can buy the best fire engines, protective clothing, and apparatus; provide the best training; but, nothing will save as many firefighters' lives as a good smoking-cessation program.
No longer will there be smoke where there's a fire station under the watch of Fire Chief Louis Dezelan. The 26 Indianapolis fire stations have a new tobacco-free policy starting Nov. 15 on this year's Great American Smokeout.
Of the 750 Indianapolis firefighters, 141 smoke cigarettes or cigars. An ordinance passed by city council in 1991 forbade smoking in public buildings, but singled out fire stations as permissible. Smoking was then confined to the area where the fire engines and ladder trucks are housed.
With that noted exception, the Indianapolis firefighters have been proactive on health issues with an emphasis on wellness to meet fitness standards since 1984.
Based on their wellness program and good labor management, the Indianapolis fire department (IFD) was invited to become one of 10 cities to create the International Association of Firefighters (IAFF) in 1996. Of the group, Indianapolis was the smallest, which included New York City, Los Angeles County, Austin, Charlotte, Miami-Dade, Phoenix, Seattle, Fairfax County, Va., and Calgary, Canada.
The mission of the IAFF was to meet with health professionals to establish an excellent wellness and fitness program for firefighters that would serve as a pilot, and to serve as leaders to encourage other cities in this initiative.
Taking Tobacco Out of the Fire Service
The Indianapolis fire department brought home a program that was only slightly different than what the Indy firefighters had had before. The main difference included medical exam components geared towards women, PSA screening for men, and a no-smoking policy.
Last year the new policy of tobacco-free fire stations was announced to give the Indianapolis firefighters plenty of warning. The fire chief aired a video message via the city network to all fire stations.
Some were uncomfortable, even angry with the change, notes Chief Dezelan, a non-smoker himself, though overall he was happy with the response.
"But, it wouldn't be right to set this policy without offering them some help in quitting," says Dezelan. "We are not telling firefighters they cannot use tobacco. They just can't use tobacco in the fire stations."
The "Tobacco Free in IFD" campaign has focused on the responsibility the firefighter has towards the community in general, and children in particular.
"Firefighters are part of the few remaining heroes that kids have," says Dezelan, whose words are printed on the campaign posters. "When children see you, they idolize you and want to be like you. They want to do the things you do. Be a real hero. Don't send the message that if they want to be like our firefighters, they should use tobacco."
"Your Community Needs You"
"As a firefighter, your contribution to your community is immeasurable," Dezelan says. "If you're like other firefighters, you love what you do for a living. Don't let your use of tobacco cut your career short. Your family and friends need you. Your community needs you."
With this "Tobacco Free in IFD" campaign, came the information and the opportunity for the firefighters and their spouses to avail themselves of smoking-cessation programs.
So far, nearly one-third of the Indy firefighters who smoke have requested help to quit.
A host of companies, agencies, and devices have been enlisted to help with smoking cessation:
- Public Safety Medical Service, which runs the wellness program for the IFD, initiated the "Tobacco Free in IFD" campaign, and provides the confidential, smoking-cessation programs.
- GlaxoSmithKline, makers of nicoderm and nicorette, will provide these products free to the firefighters.
- American Cancer Society (ACS) and American Lung Association have provided literature and signage.
- Also providing services are the White River Psychology Employee Assistance Program and Indiana University School of Medicine's IU Nicotine Dependence Center.
Dezelan believes that "if we can help these firefighters who have requested assistance in quitting, we will have been successful."
Tom Glynn, ACS director of cancer science and trends, supports the "Tobacco Free in IFD" campaign. "This is a wonderful example of what a community and service organization can do to make an impact and help save lives."
"We can buy the best fire engines, protective clothing, and apparatus; provide the best training; but, nothing will save as many firefighters' lives, as a good smoking-cessation program," says Dezelan.