Older Firefighters: A Problem to Be Managed or a Resource to Be Valued?
Firefighters used to work a 30-year career and retire in their 50s. When the life expectancy of a retired firefighter was limited by their lungs being damaged by smoke inhalation, this did not place too heavy a financial burden on the Fire and Rescue Service (FRS) or the government. However, the increased longevity of the working population has created the need to extend working lives, and the impact upon firefighters has been to expect up to 40 years’ employment plus additional pension contributions.
In common with many large employers, the FRS has not been proactive in dealing with this challenge and is now faced with devising protocols to manage an increasing number of firefighters who may work until their 60s. Throughout this chapter, the term ‘Older Firefighters’ is taken to mean those who may retire at an age beyond the former traditional retirement age for UK firefighters of 50.
Financial contributions, diminishing fitness levels and lack of motivation are issues that the FRS is only just starting to manage. This is particularly pressing as the additional ‘Green Watch’ firefighters (who were employed in the late 1970s and early 1980s) have retired and are not being replaced.
From an occupational health (OH) perspective, it is vital that FRS managers fully understand the role that OH plays in maintaining the bio-psycho-social wellbeing of the workforce. Health promotion on healthy lifestyles will be more important than ever, given the challenges presented by an ageing workforce, but it may be equally important to educate organisations in their attitudes to older workers, developing a culture of ‘smarter’ working, especially in terms of the operational firefighting role.
Using data collected in a metropolitan FRS together with a subsequent study of the relevant policies adopted in the English FRS, this chapter considers how the FRS could manage this situation effectively.
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