New invention could prevent hearing loss for firefighters

Firefighters continuously risk suffering the effects of permanent hearing loss. The constant wail of sirens, as well as the raucous noise created by chainsaws, metal cutting saws, and other advanced equipment, undoubtedly causes firefighters’ hearing abilities to decrease.

Hearing loss is a top priority for fire chiefs. Firefighters’ hearing is monitored during routine checks, but despite the current preventative measures put into practice, many firefighters end up needing a hearing aid upon retirement.

Currently, firefighters use headsets to protect their hearing while on board a truck. The headsets are designed to minimize the damage caused by the roaring engines and sirens, but allow users to hear one another as well as their dispatch radio. Once at an emergency site, ordinary foam ear plugs are used, but these cheap, low-tech tools are
hardly an ideal solution.

It takes time to insert a foam ear plug, and when on a job site, firefighters often don’t have the time needed to ensure that their hearing protection has been correctly put into place. On top of that, between giving and taking instructions, coordinating rescue operations, and hustling about to get the job done, firefighters may need to remove their ear plugs and may not get the chance to properly replace them.

Advances are being made thanks to an Albuquerque audiologist named Dr. Kathleen Romero who has created an innovative ear plug designed to suit the unique needs firefighters face on a daily basis. Her design features form-fitted foam inserts that are made using a customized mold. They’re easy to put in and take out, and they’re
fitted with a cord, which allows users to conveniently clip their ear plugs onto their uniform collar. This way, the plugs are always ready when needed.

Dr. Romero’s new ear plugs are adjustable for different levels of noise, so firefighters can choose the right level of protection needed for the job at hand. Unfortunately, Dr. Romero’s new protectors aren’t cheap. A single pair costs $180, but for fire departments with a contract, the price is just $125 a pair, making the use of this product a valuable investment in the fight against hearing loss. So far, the Sandoval County and Town of Bernalillo departments are the only ones using Dr. Romero’s design, but due to the potential to better protect their firefighters, other departments are undoubtedly looking
into it.