A recent study from Boston University found hits to the head, not concussions, leads to chronic traumatic encephalopathy; a problem often seen in professional athletes.
It's also a larger problem outside of sports by potentially impacting firefighters in our community.
Southwick Firefighter Rosie Lacas told Western Mass News the possibilities for head injury are everywhere in the fire service
"If you don't pick your head up you can run into everything, falling debris. Firefighter helmet isn't made for concussion prevention," said Lacas.
According to the National Fire Protection Association, the third most common injury for firefighters is head trauma.
Often it is under reported and untreated.
On June 2, 2006, a roof collapsed on Holyoke Fire Captain David Rex.
"As we made our way out I was knocked down and out by a beam. Rang my bell. Headaches for a couple days after but didn't think anything of it. It's no big deal, part of the job and lets get back to work," said Rex.
Medical Doctor Lee Goldstein said head trauma can lead to chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, which causes brain cell death, cognitive deficits, and dementia, ultimately leading to death
"Its not about what happens in that moment, its what happens two, three weeks, months later," said Dr. Goldstein.
Dr. Goldstein is the corresponding author of the Boston University study.
He spoke to Western Mass News by phone and said CTE is not restricted to sports.
"First responders like your firefighters are put at risk even at training and off hours," he added.
CTE starts acutely, but the effects may cause lifelong issues
"Including making judgments so for firefighters and military this puts themselves and others at risk. They need to take particular care of their brains because they're making life or death decisions where their brain [is] the most important tool they have," Dr. Goldstein explained.
Although he's hit his head in the line of duty, South Hadley Fire Captain Jim Pola said that injuries are common.
"I have seen a fractured leg, cuts, and bruises; that sort of thing. Injuries haven't been frequent," Said Pola.
Pola believes awareness is the best tool for prevention.
"There's much more classes at the fire academy that firefighters can attend to be taught and be aware of the signs.With that early recognition, that's when we can prevent the accumulation and severe long-term impacts with the right treatment," Pola added.
Dr. Goldstein said you can stop all, if not most cases of CTE with education and prevention
"It's something that for your firefighters is really key. Maybe we alter, maybe there's consideration of altering the way one goes into a building to prevent that falling on the head in first place," he noted.
Captain Rex said another fix may be physical fitness.
"That's where I try to focus my attention now is trying prevent concussion or injury and becoming a little stronger in core a little more flexible a little more ready to go to work," Rex added.
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