For the first time in at least six years, Augusta-Richmond County firefighters will have mandatory physicals this summer.
On April 17, the Augusta Commission approved using University Health Services as the vendor for the physicals, which will be a requirement from now on, according to Chief Chris James. The test will also be a prerequisite for hiring by the department.
“It’s going to be a positive in the long run,” James said. “It will assure we have firefighters that are able to do the job a firefighter has to be able to do.”
The physicals will be the standard National Fire Protection Association 1582, which the organization recommends for every fire department nationwide. It includes tests ranging from a blood analysis to vision.
The next step, now that the vendor has been awarded, is to complete the contract with University, James said. It is expected to be done in the next few weeks.
He will then meet with the hospital to determine how many firefighters can be tested at once and organize a schedule.
He hopes to start testing this summer.
James stressed that it is purely a health test for firefighters.
“If someone has a condition they don’t know about that can put citizens and other firefighters in harm’s way, we need to take care of it,” he said.
He used the example of a firefighter who might have diabetes and not be aware of it. If the firefighter had an episode while driving a truck or climbing a ladder, it could endanger the rest of the crew and Augusta residents.
The test will also lessen the liability of the department and the city commission by tackling health issues up front, he said.
If a firefighter does not pass the test, James said, the next step will be to see whether the condition is treatable. If it is, the firefighter will be given time to have it treated.
If it is an untreatable condition that will hinder the firefighter’s job, that employee will be given the chance to look at other opportunities within the department and city government.
“It could save a firefighter’s life if we find something they didn’t know about,” James said.