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Dangers Of Firefighting Not Just About Battling Flames

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PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- Firefighters put their lives in jeopardy to keep us safe. It's dangerous work that causes a variety of health problems, not all directly related to firefighting.

"Reality is we try to stay healthy. You know, try, but we live in the world we live in," said Mount Laurel Fire Lt. Martin Gaynor.

Gaynor knows all about the health hazards of his job.

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"We're much more susceptible to cancer," said Gaynor.

That's from the carcinogens that burn in fires and there's the hazards of firefighting, combined with higher rates of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and stress.

"Then they have the traumatic experiences that they might witness and being able to cope with those," said Dr. Julia Snyder of R-Health. "I unfortunately do see trouble with anxiety and depression."

Snyder takes care of a lot of firefighters through R-Health, a New Jersey state health benefit where patients, like Gaynor, get unlimited access to personalized care.

She encourages healthy eating, like watermelon, which can be a challenge in the fire house, and exercise.

"I always start off with tread mill, stationary bike, get cardio in," said Gaynor.

Gaynor works out in the fire station's gym as he needs to stay fit.

"The whole ensemble is together, with the air pack, is 60 pounds," said Gaynor.

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It's a lot of protective equipment designed to keep firefighters safe while they save lives.

"My safety is always the primary concern. My safety, my crew's safety, and then the people we are trying to help," said Gaynor.

They try to keep things light in the fire house, even knowing that surviving fires, unfortunately, doesn't guard against all the other health dangers they face.

Many career firefighters and first responders in New Jersey have access to R-Health through their state health insurance at no additional cost and no co-pays. They say having quick and easy access to doctors helps keep them healthier and lowers costs.

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