Becoming A Firefighter with T1D – by Caitlin Willsher

For many of us, there must have been some part in our childhood where we dreamt of being a firefighter. For Caitlin in Australia, this dream was very real and she never let anything stand in her way – not even diabetes. Read her story to learn more about how she manages diabetes alongside firefighting! 

I’m 18 years old and I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 2005, when I was four years old. 

For my whole life, my dad has been a volunteer firefighter at our local brigade. So when I turned 11 years old, I was able to join the junior fire brigade team. The junior team is for kids ages 11-16 years and gives us training and skills for when we are able to join the senior team. As juniors we compete in statewide running events that involve connecting fire hoses and shooting targets with water as quickly as possible. When I turned 16, I joined the senior brigade and I could now fight fires and go to call outs. I have attended all type of fires: house fires, grass fires, truck fires, car accidents, and even animal rescues. 

Being a firefighter with type 1 diabetes isn’t hard –  you just need to be prepared. I have to take the right precautions to keep my levels stable while I’m out fighting a fire, the same as any other person with type 1 diabetes who plays a sport. 

In my turnout gear (“turnout gear” being the gear I wear to each fire callout), I keep a spare meter, glucose gel, and glucose tablets. That way, I always have supplies that won’t go stale and that are always with me. So it doesn’t really matter if I forget to bring my fingerpicker from home. If the truck is out for a long time, we have food ration packs on the truck. There is always food on a truck if needed and I reduce my basal rate on my pump if I go to a fire.

Having a sensor attached on a high fire danger day (or any day) helps. It makes it easier to see at a glance what my levels are. I can eat some food if I see myself going low and don’t have to rely on doing a blood sugar test as often to make sure I’m not going into a hypo. While on the scene of a fire, I need to keep my levels in control so I don’t put myself or anyone else at risk. 

Another thing to add is that having the right support team is key: having the right educator and supportive parents who encourage me to achieve my goals helps so much with keeping track with how to go about following my goals to be a firefighter. 

And I will not let my diabetes get in the way! Currently I have my minimum skills training, which you need to do in order to attend basic call outs. I have my level two first aid and my low structure training that allows me to get close to house and building (structure) fires. Soon, I hope to complete my breathing apparatus course so that I can go into house fires and burning buildings.

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