The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health recently warned firefighters in California and other states of the risk of developing a dangerous condition that is called rhabdomyolysis, or rhabdo. It is caused by electrolytes and proteins that are released into the blood when damaged muscle tissues, caused by overexertion, are broken down by the process of rhabdo. Early diagnosis of rhabdo can set the ball rolling to obtain workers’ compensation benefits.
Firefighters exert themselves by carrying heavy loads containing their turnout gear, tools and air packs while climbing stairs and ladders and navigating rugged terrain and rescuing victims. Exposure to excessive heat and prolonged exertion during overhaul tasks exacerbate the risks. Those who are also using dietary supplements, allergy medication, antibiotics or any other prescribed medications are even more vulnerable.
Firefighters who experience more severe aches, pains or muscle cramps than what they would expect under the circumstances, or if they feel too tired to get through a workout that is part of a regular routine might see this as red flags. Urine that is cola- or tea-colored is another concerning symptom of rhabdo that indicates the urgent need for medical attention. The doctor must be informed of the patient’s occupation so that blood tests can be done to check for the presence of creatine phosphokinase. There is no other way to diagnose rhabdo.
California firefighters are typically covered by the state’s workers’ compensation insurance program. Reporting the occupational illness to the employer is the first step to obtain benefits that will include coverage of medical expenses. If the firefighter’s condition caused absence from work, a percentage of lost income might form part of the benefits. An experienced workers’ compensation attorney can assist throughout the claims process.