Health and Safety Trend: The Importance of Exposure Documentation

The Fire Apparatus Manufacturers’ Association’s (FAMA) goal is to provide tools and information to promote fire apparatus safety. Safety begins at the firehouse and must extend to every fireground and emergency medical services call. Clean cab design and enhanced field decontamination procedures are two examples of how the fire service is evolving to reduce the risk of chemical exposures that can contribute to cardiovascular disease or cancer. Fire equipment manufacturers, in partnership with customers and industry leading organizations, use data collected from the fire scene to develop new technologies and adapt existing technology to mitigate exposure risk. Simply put, exposure documentation at all incidents is a priority in the fight against occupational cancer.


The International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) Volunteer and Combination Officers Section (VCOS) and the National Volunteer Fire Council (NVFC) released the “Lavender Ribbon Report: Best Practices for Preventing Firefighter Cancer.” This important report focused on providing actions to reduce the risk factors of cancer in the fire service. Best Practice 11 from the report is, “Fully document all fire or chemical exposures on incident reports and personal exposure reports.” Chief Reed Bullock, the author of this best practice, goes on to state, “Through documentation, a clearer picture is painted that correlates exposures to the health risks associated with those exposures. This is helpful for departments in identifying risks and implementing changes to minimize those risks.”

The Firefighter Cancer Support Network white paper, “Taking Action Against Cancer in the Fire Service,” highlighted the need for exposure documentation: “Certainly, the establishment and maintenance of exposure tracking systems needs to be the primary responsibility of the fire department, but each individual firefighter needs to ensure that they are also tracking their own exposures. Each firefighter should establish their own method of capturing this type of information, using personal computers, mobile devices, or even index cards if for no other reason than having a backup”.


Documenting as much detail regarding potential exposures as they happen will help departments identify risks and implement changes to minimize those risks. A baseline should be set for all personnel via an annual physical to ensure firefighters are in good health. The IAFC, in collaboration with Firefighter Safety Through Advanced Research, created the “Healthcare Provider’s Guide to Firefighter Physicals” to assist healthcare providers. Firefighters are encouraged to bring the guide to their next annual physical. Download it at Additionally, routine inspection and documentation of a firefighter’s personal protective equipment (PPE), along with all equipment and apparatus, should be conducted and retained.

The greatest amount of documentation will come from on-the-job exposures. This report should include but is not limited to the following:

  • A basic incident report to account for apparatus times on scene, times on scene for the personnel staffing those apparatus, placement of apparatus in relation to the incident, individual assignments, and atmospheric or weather conditions.
  • For the responders, documentation should be kept as to their roles at the scene. A careful job hazard analysis can identify potential sources of exposure for each type of event, and this can be used to aid in identifying exposures while on scene.

Another part of the scene documentation could come if an investigation is done of the incident. These records could be invaluable to establishing confirmed exposure and to best protect firefighters in the future.

The First Responder Center for Excellence ( and the NVFC ( both provide more information regarding exposure documentation as well as sample exposure tracking forms.


Each firefighter should take personal responsibility for documenting exposures. Transitioning from a paper-based system to a digital platform has never been easier, and there are no-cost options available. Earlier this year, the VCOS and NVFC presented “Surviving the Job Webinar Series: Exposure Documentation.” The presentation highlighted apps available for documentation that can be implemented. Additionally, information was shared concerning the national cancer registry and the importance of reporting. A recording of the Webinar is available at:


FAMA member companies are continuing to develop new products, technologies and practices that will help limit chemical exposures for firefighters by analyzing documentation and data. Fire departments are encouraged to work with their apparatus manufacturers to specify apparatus in a way that supports healthy procedures that will benefit firefighters now and in the future.

FAMA is committed to the manufacture and sale of safe, efficient emergency response vehicles and equipment. FAMA urges fire departments to evaluate the full range of safety features offered by its member companies.