Click here to report anti-volunteer bias, contact the NVFC’s Volunteer Advocacy Committee, or learn more about threats to the right to volunteer.

Share the Load Videos

The following videos provide more information about firefighter behavioral health and the help that is available to firefighters, EMS providers, and family members in need.

Warning Signs to Know

This brief video alerts first responders and their families to common warning signs of five behavioral health issues firefighters and EMTs may face. Share this video with your department members, and use the links above to find more information about warning signs and what to do if you see them.

 
Interview with Heather Schafer

This interview with National Volunteer Fire Council CEO Heather Schafer discusses firefighter behavioral health and the help that is available through the Share the Load program. 


Interview with Dr. Richard Gasaway

This interview with Dr. Richard Gasaway of Situational Awareness Matters talks about firefighter behavioral health and the help that is available through the Fire/EMS Helpline.


Interview with Ron Siarnicki

This interview with Chief Ron Siarnicki, Executive Director of the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation, talks about firefighter behavioral health and the importance of seeking help. 


Interview with Lori Mercer

This interview with Lori Mercer, founder of FirefighterWife.com, talks about the challenges that firefighter families face and the help that is available to strengthen family bonds. 


Interview with Dan Mercer

This interview with White Hall City Firefighter Dan Mercer talks about firefighter behavioral health and the help that is available through the Fire/EMS Helpline. 


Interview with John Salka

This interview with Retired FDNY Battalion Chief John Salka talks about substance and alcohol abuse in the fire service and the importance of seeking help. 

Cancer

Cancer is a significant threat to emergency responders. Numerous studies have shown that firefighters are at a great risk for getting several types of cancer as compared with the general population. As a first responder, it is critical that you educate yourself on your risks and what you can do to minimize those risks.
 
Early detection is key to combatting cancer, so make sure you are getting regular screenings and tell your doctor that you are a firefighter. Also take steps to reduce your risks of exposure to cancer-causing carcinogens. This includes full and proper use of PPE throughout response and overhaul, washing PPE and hoods after response, never storing dirty PPE in your car or house, and washing your face and hands immediately after response and before touching food.
 
Below are resources to help you and your department takes action against cancer.
 

 
Tools and Templates 
 
The Firefighter Cancer Support Network released this white paper highlighting the cancer problem, risks firefighters face, and steps you can take to lessen those risks.
 
Immediate Actions to Protect Against Cancer
The Firefighter Cancer Support Network provides these 11 actions you can take now to protect yourself against cancer.
 
This sample sign from the Firefighter Cancer Support Network reinforces that gear should not be taken into living and sleeping quarters.
 
Wash Your Hood Sunday
This sign from the Firefighter Cancer Support Network promotes "Wash Your Hood Sunday," a reminder that hoods need to be washed on a regular basis. Implement Wash Your Hood Sunday in your department.
 
FireRescue1 and Globe teamed up to produce this quick guidance for the fire service on how to rid firefighting PPE of contaminents and simple ways firefighters can protect themselves against cancer with PPE.
 
Sample Fire Personnel Toxic Exposure Form
Exposure to toxic elements can have a significant impact on a firefighter's health. In the event of exposure it is critical to document the details of the incident. This from from the Phoenix (AZ) Fire Department provides an example of a toxic exposure reporting form.
 
Sample Personal Call Log
It is important to keep a record of the details of each call you run for easy reference in case you run into a health issue at a later time. This sample personal call log entry from the Firefighter Cancer Support Network shows what information should be included in your personal call log.
 
Joint Cancer Initiative Program
New Hanover County Fire-Rescue and Wilmington Fire Department in North Carolina launched a Joint Cancer Initiative Program to reduce the risk of cancer for their firefighters. Through the initiative, the departments are providing decon kits, protective equipment, and reference documents, and are also charging their personnel with personal accountability. 


Sample No Smoking Policy
The NVFC's Heart-Healthy Firefighter Program developed a sample no-smoking policy and provides the steps a department can take to successfully implement a no-smoking policy.

 
Training and Videos
 
This course, available on-demand in the NVFC Virtual Classroom, covers the scope of the cancer problem in the fire service, challenges firefighters face, the role of leadership, actions individuals can take to protect themselves from cancer, and more.
 
This course, available on-demand in the NVFC Virtual Classroom, educates fire and rescue personnel on the criticality of continuing the use of SCBA during overhaul where smoke, products of combustion, and inhalation dangers still exist. The hazards present in the atmosphere during overhaul are identified as well as the effects of these products on an individual’s health, and recommendations are made for appropriate agency policies and procedures.
 
The NVFC teamed up with subject matter experts to provide firefighters with quick tips and best practices when it comes to using, replacing, cleaning, and funding PPE in order to prevent injury, illness, and death from improper use of PPE.
 
This video highlights Boston firefighters who have died or have had their lives changed due to cancer.
 
Additional Resources 
 
The NVFC held a Cancer Roundtable at its 2015 Spring Board Meeting that produced tips and best practices for limiting exposure.
 
This article by Timothy Elliott of the Firefighter Cancer Support Network provides actions volunteer firefighters can take to prevent cancer as well as get help in the event of a cancer diagnosis.
 
This article by NVFC board member Brian McQueen shares his story of receiving a cancer diagnosis and why early detection and preventative steps are so critical in the fire service.
 
The NVFC’s Put It Out campaign is designed to help firefighters quit smoking and assist departments in establishing no-smoking policies.
 
The Firefighter Cancer Support Network provides support and assistance to firefighters and their families in the event of a cancer diagnosis, as well as resources for firefighter cancer research and prevention.
 
The Fire Smoke Coalition has resources and training to help firefighters “Know Your Smoke” and prevent exposure to toxic environments. 
 
The National Cancer Institute provides information on screenings, prevention, treatment, and more.
 
The Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation is a nonprofit organization dedicated to ending mesothelioma and the suffering caused by it. Firefighters and paramedics are at risk of exposure to asbestos and other dangerous substances, which could lead to cancers such as mesothelioma.
 
The Mesothelioma Group provides information for firefighters about mesothelioma and safety tips to take.
 
Research 
 
The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) conducted a study of 30,000 firefighters from three large cities and found higher rates of several types of cancers, and of all cancers combined, than the U.S. population as a whole. Read a summary of the findings.
 
This 2006 study published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine reviewed 32 previous studies on firefighters and determined that firefighters have probable higher risk for three types of cancers, with a possible higher risk for nine other cancers.
 
State Firefighter Cancer Presumption Laws
 
Many states have laws establishing a presumption that certain types of cancer contracted by firefighters are the result of duty-related exposure. These laws typically allow the families of firefighters who contract these types of cancer to receive compensation in various forms, including through enhanced retirement or pension benefits, workers compensation, and/or death and disability benefits. 
 
Most state laws stipulate various conditions that must be met in order for the cancer presumption to be valid, including that the firefighter have served for a certain length of time, that the firefighter have refrained from using tobacco products, that the firefighter had a physical examination upon joining the department, etc. These conditions are intended to protect the state or department (depending on which entity is responsible for paying the benefit) from having to compensate families of firefighters whose cancer was not contracted as a result of duty-related exposure.
 
Not all state presumptive laws extend coverage to volunteer firefighters. In some cases, state laws explicitly extend coverage only to full-time paid firefighters. In other cases, state laws apply exclusively to benefits that only full-time paid firefighters receive. The International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) maintains a publicly-accessible web page listing cancer presumption laws in different states.
 
In May 2015, the NVFC polled our Board of Directors to identify states that have cancer presumption laws that explicitly cover volunteer firefighters. Based on the responses we have been able to identify laws in the following states that extend coverage to volunteer firefighters.  
 
If you are aware of a cancer presumption law in another state that explicitly covers volunteers, please e-mail Dave Finger, NVFC Chief of Legislative and Regulatory Affairs, at  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .
 
Several of the NVFC’s state member associations are working on cancer presumption legislation at the state level. For information about these efforts, please contact the member association in your state directly.
 
 
 

Share the Loadâ„¢ Resources

Behavioral health is a subject not often talked about in the fire service, but it affects every department and emergency responder in some way or other. The NVFC, through its Share the Load™ Support Program, has developed a series of resources to help educate and train first responders about the importance of behavioral health and provide resources, tips, and tools to help departments, first responders, and families address these issues.

Share the Load Helpletter

This newsletter features articles from subject matter experts and fire service veterans who provide tips, tools, and resources to help first responders take a proactive approach in addressing many behavioral health issues. Included are signs and symptoms of common behavioral health issues, tips for managing stress, information about the Fire/EMS Helpline, tips for keeping family relationships strong, the need to break the stigma of behavioral health in the emergency services, recognizing the importance of retirement planning in the fire service, steps for developing a department behavioral health program, information on Firefighter Life Safety Initiative 13, and more.

Share this publication with your entire department and use it as a reference to help you develop, expand, and maintain your department's behavioral health program. (Having trouble downloading the file? Right click and choose save to open.)

Share the Load Poster

The Share the Load™ program poster encourages first responders to reach out if they need help. Hang a copy of the poster up at the station to remind personnel that help is available. The poster promotes the Fire/EMS Helpline, a free, confidential phone line available 24/7 to provide support to first responders and their families experiencing any behavioral health issue, such as PTSD, depressions, stress, addiction, and more. The PDF poster size is 16.5”x21”. To request hard copies of the poster, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . Be sure to include the quantity you need, your name, and your mailing address.

Share the Load Ad

This ad can be placed in department newsletters and fire service publications to encourage first responders to reach out if they need help. It also includes the number for the National Fire/EMS Helpline to let firefighters and EMTs know help is available when they need it. The ad is 8.5”x11”.

What to Expect: A Guide for Family Members of Volunteer Firefighters

Joining the volunteer fire service means a lifestyle change not only for the individual volunteer, but also for their entire family. To help family members navigate the volunteer fire service life, the NVFC partnered with FirefighterWife.com to create this resource for spouses, children, parents, siblings, and significant others of volunteer and paid-on-call responders. It introduces family members to the basics of the volunteer firefighter life, provides guidance for keeping family relationships strong and being part of the fire department family, and contains an array of tips and resources to help first responder families adjust to this lifestyle.

Download the guide for free, or order print copies from the NVFC store. For a limited time only, NVFC members can order up to 25 print copies for free; access the discount code from the Member Benefits page of the Members-Only section of the NVFC web site. (Having trouble downloading the file? Right click and choose save to open.)

Suicide in the Fire and Emergency Services: Adopting a Proactive Approach to Behavioral Health Awareness and Suicide Prevention

This report explores various firefighter/EMT behavioral health concerns and identifies resources and best practices for mental wellness and suicide prevention in the fire and emergency services. It also includes data from a behavioral health survey conducted by the NVFC. In addition to the report, a webinar providing an overview of the report and survey is also available. (Having trouble downloading the file? Right click and choose save to open.)

Preventing and Coping with Suicide in the Fire and Emergency Services

The NVFC, with support from the U.S. Fire Administration developed this online training course focusing on suicide awareness and prevention. The three-module course examines the signs and symptoms preceding suicide, highlights available resources for departments and individuals, and discusses the healing process when coping with a firefighter suicide. This course is available through the NVFC's Virtual Classroom.

Brotherhood vs. Parenthood: Finding your Life Balance

This webinar looks at all the roles a volunteer firefighter plays throughout their lives. From your role as an employee to spouse to parent to firefighter, how do you emphasize the importance, purpose, and balance of each role? This webinar will help you identify strategies for prioritizing each aspect of your life to help you achieve balance and time management. This course is available through the NVFC's Virtual Classroom.

Putting Out the Fire: Stress Resilience Strategies

Stress is an underlying risk factor that affects a majority of the population, especially first responders. Can you identify your current stressors? Do you know what types of stressors exist? Do you know the types of stressors to which you are susceptible? This webinar helps you key in on the types of stressors most prominent for firefighters and how to successfully manage stress as it arises. This course is available through the NVFC's Virtual Classroom.

Fire Service Suicide and Behavioral Health Concerns

This webinar provides an overview of behavioral health issues effecting the fire and emergency services, with a focus on firefighter suicide warning signs and prevention. The webinar is available through McNeil and Company’s Emergency Service Insurance Program (ESIP) platform. Visit http://training.mcneilandcompany.com and sign-in if you have an existing account, or register as a student using access code 6832.


< Back to Share the Load

Fire Prevention and Safety

There are many resources available to help you spread important fire prevention and safety information in your community.

Fire Corps
The NVFC's fire prevention resource center is hosted by Fire Corps. Click here to access fire prevention and life safety education resources, including the Fire Corps Guide to Fire and Life Safety Education, resources for smoke alarm and home safety check programs, and fire prevention tips sheets.

NVFC Virtual Classroom
Check out the NVFC's online training platform for courses including Fire Corps in Public Education and Conducting Home Safety Checks.

Wildland Fire Assessment Program
The NVFC and U.S. Forest Service teamed up to develop this program that trains first responders and support personnel how to properly conduct home assessments in the wildland-urban interface to help make communities more fire adapted.

Fire Prevention Week
Each October, the NFPA sponsors a national awareness week to educate the public on important fire prevention topics.

NFPA Smoke Alarm Resources
The NFPA has developed many resources and materials to help educators spread smoke alarm safety messages in their community and implement smoke alarm installation programs.

Fire Safety for Children
Ready.gov produces this webpage that provides resources and tips to share in your community to prevent fires and protect children.

USFA Install. Inspect. Protect. Campaign
This national awareness campaign includes materials you can use to spread important smoke alarm safety messages in your community.

USFA Smoking and Home Fires Campaign
This national campaign provides information, tips, and resources for preventing smoking-related home fires.

USFAA Educational Foundation
This site provides free educational publications that you can use to help promote a variety of fire prevention and life safety topics in your community.

Nondiscrimination Statement

In accordance with Federal law and U.S. Department of Agriculture policy, this institution is prohibited from discriminating on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, age, or disability. (Not all prohibited bases apply to all programs.)

If you require information for this program in an alternative format (braille, large print, audiotape, etc.) or in a language other than English, contact the NVFC at 202-887-5700 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

To file a complaint alleging discrimination, write USDA, Director, Office of Civil Rights, 1400 Independence Avenue, S.W., Washington, DC 20250-9410, or for Forest Service issues please call, toll free, (866) 632-9992 (Voice). TDD users can contact USDA through local relay or the Federal Relay at (800) 877-8339 (TDD) or (866) 377-8642 (relay voice users).

USDA and the NVFC is an equal opportunity provider and employer.