A Dietitian’s Role with Firefighters

I was right in the middle of my rotation with the USDA when the government shutdown. The shutdown began right before the holidays and I thought surely the government would reopen by the time break was over on January 8th.  However, break ended and there seemed to be no signs of the government reopening anytime soon.

A few days before we were to start back at our rotations, I received an email from our MCFRSdirector telling me she had found a backup rotation for the time being.  I was to meet with a new dietitian who provided nutrition education for firefighters and police officers. My first thought was, “that’s a thing?” I met with my preceptor, Megan, at the Montgomery Police Department where she had a meeting and later we went to a fire station for a presentation. The presentation was informal allowing the firefighters to feel comfortable asking questions about implementing nutrition in their lives based on their needs. Megan also included nutrition information about heart disease specifically as this population is at higher risk.

It wasn’t long before the firefighters were called and I found myself jumping into the back of the fire truck with them!  With a rush of excitement I saw just how imperative it is for these first responders to always be alert and ready to go with less than a moments notice.

When we arrived at the scene we soon learned our advanced life support firefighter team would not be needed. The call ended up being for a basic life support issue and another team was already present. I found it interesting that Montgomery County uses a clinical decision support tree to determine which personnel team is to be sent to each scene. Whenever the patient or victim states they are having trouble breathing it triggers the need of an advanced life support team as well as a basic life support team. In class, we often talk about using health informatics tools to improve outcomes  and I was grateful to see a real life example at play.

Prior to the call we were discussing how the fire fighters sometimes struggle to make healthy dinners as they often depend on eating out or are confined by barriers such as time and money. Instead of returning straight back to the fire station we took the opportunity to stop at a grocery store to pick up ingredients for dinner and I was excited to be able to throw in my two cents.

With time being uncertain, everyone split up once we arrived at the grocery store. The main focus of the meal starts with the protein. Chili was on the menu that night and I was surprised to see that lean ground turkey was the protein of choice instead of ground beef. While others were grabbing sides, I stuck with the captain as we scanned the isles for canned goods, which would be the bulk of the meal. He asked me questions regarding nutrition of the canned beans. I shared with the captain that it isn’t necessary to buy low sodium beans as rinsing and draining them is very effective at reducing the sodium. Luckily we were able to get all of the items needed without getting another call. This seems to be a typical occurrence,  as they told me of a time they went to the grocery store three times in just one day, always leaving empty handed due to a call. Understandably they resorted to eating out that night.

When we arrived back at the station the firefighters got to work deciding to make the chili in a crockpot. First off they had to brown the turkey. The turkey had been in the pan for less than a minute when they got another call and they were off back into the fire truck. It was a good thing my preceptor and I were there to turn off the stove and crockpot and get the turkey in the fridge in case they were gone long. Food safety, I realized, is another topic to cover with firefighters.

Though I wasn’t able to help with the rest of the meal preparation, I was pleased to know they were able to finish cooking their dinner and enjoy a hearty bowl of chili with a side salad.  The captain even sent me pictures of the finished product and gave it two thumbs up!

Lucky for me, I had the opportunity to cook a meal for a different station of firefighters the next week. My preceptor and I got to work in the surprisingly well-stocked kitchen, cooking up a Cajun Chicken Pasta dish with a side salad. The dish was loaded with veggies and made with whole-wheat pasta. As we sat down for the meal I was nervous to see their reactions. Yet, as I saw them go back for seconds, and even thirds, I knew it was a hit. Better yet, they saw how quickly it all came together and realized cooking healthy doesn’t need to be complicated or expensive.



The value of dietitians is being recognized more and more with each day as this experience taught me. It is because of positions such as Megan’s that dietitians value is becoming more apparent and opening new doors for future dietitians.

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