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Are You At Risk
Updated On: Dec 19, 2008


Are You A Firefighter At High-Risk?

Mayor Kelly and Chief Holton have eliminated our Health and Wellness coordinator position and our Health and Wellness program. The elimination of these programs violates OSHA 1500 and NFPA 1582 & 1583. The decision of Mayor Kelly and Chief Holton are also against the recommendations of :

The International Association of Fire Chiefs

who said

"A program of physical fitness, health and wellness should be an objective at every fire department as a means for potentially reducing fire fighter injuries. The program should be designed to enable members of the department to develop and maintain appropriate levels of physical fitness."

Other agencies recommending a Health and Wellness program include:

The International Association of Fire Fighters

The National Volunteer Fire Council

The U.S. Fire Administration

The International City/County Management Association, Managing Fire and Rescue Services Guidebook.

Are You A Firefighter At High-Risk?
WRITTEN BY : www.firefighting.comJerry Smith

The red flags are raised higher this year as more fire service organizations continue to show mounting concern for the heart health of America?s firefighters. Indeed, a high percentage of reported coronary heart disease is causing industry wide anxiety about the consistent rate of (CHD) deaths in the line of duty. And sadly, there is every indication that fatal heart attack will remain the leading cause of LODDs. And only until this nation?s political powers together marshal their influence on the U.S. Congress to help local government provide improved medical screening will we hope to see any change. In my opinion, we?re long overdue to begin heart scanning and cardio/diagnostic treadmill testing of high-risk firefighters.

I can think of no greater "at risk group" than all front-line firefighters in America with a family history of heart disease. If we were to forecast 45% of all LODDS reported in 2005 would involve young and older firefighters with (CHD) coronary heart disease, is that not enough to declare a national epidemic? However, there may be a flicker of hope in the immediate future if we can attract medical exam grant money. Recent medical studies in Cambridge MA has concluded: ?improved fitness promotion, medical screening and medical management could prevent many of these premature deaths?.


U.S. firefighters have one of the nation's highest occupational fatality rates. Experts have often held that smoke exposure, physical exertion and psychological stressors increase cardiovascular risk among firefighters. Never, are we to under estimate the stressful firefighting occupation we have chosen and the toll it takes on our professional dedication. For example, in contrast to firefighter LODD statistics there were 22% of on-duty deaths due to (CHD) among police and detectives, 15% among occupational fatalities overall, and 11% among other emergency medical service (EMS) workers.

Yes, it?s what we do and the passion we put forth no matter the consequences to our personal health and wellness. Sure, there are other stressful professions out there, but few that compare to the heart pounding, exhaustive work of a front-line firefighter, often exposed to unstable fire environments where a variety of hostile conditions prevail.

During a structure fire, an overheated firefighter exposes their cardiovascular system to extraordinary levels of (cortisol) a hormone chemical being released by the adrenal gland. Not to mention the physical demands of over exertion involved in firefighting. Then add the rising high-heat atmosphere and contaminated dense smoke exposure in structure fires, plus excessive emotional and physical stress that covers a variety of causes from A to Z. All of which adds to the calcium buildup, premature blockage, and hardening of arteries at a very young age. Yes, you could be walking around with more than 50% blockage in one or more arteries and not be experiencing any symptoms of a pending heart episode.

How serious should you and your family be concerned about your overall heart wellness? Recent medical research had this to say and I quote: ?Having a parent who had an early heart attack is a well-known risk factor for heart disease, and researchers may now have a better understanding of why that is. It appears that hardening of the arteries begins very early for people who have a genetic predisposition, with significant damage often occurring before age 20?. END

Imagine the youthful, muscular firefighter in their slick workout trunks who looks like a front-page ad for some health/fitness magazine. Only in this instance, this person doesn?t know or realize on the inside -- a cardiovascular nightmare exists and a heart condition that?s very close to a fatal episode if treatment is not started soon. No, those annual physicals are not showing this predisposed firefighter with any abnormalities. Yes, that?s right, nothing clinical that might tip the examining family or clinic doctor that your arteries could be those of a much older person diagnosed with advanced heart disease.

To prove my point I recently passed a family doctor?s office administered physical with flying colors. Yes, blood pressure, and cardiogram all normal for my age. I walked away feeling good about myself that was until I decided to have a CT scan of my heart. When I received the results of that test I was astounded by the very high levels of calcium buildup and possible 50% blockage in one or more arteries. There recommendation that I immediately contact a cardiologist for further examination. I am now an official heart patient taking two low dosage (81mg) aspirin everyday and a statin drug (Crestor 5mg) to keep my rather high cholesterol levels in the normal range. Yes, before I underwent more extensive heart screening I was feeling fine for an aging firefighter who had been through a lot in a very exciting and active fire-rescue service career with the Los Angeles City Fire Department.


Researchers don?t have to tell us firefighting could precipitate CHD events in firefighters. We know that long sedentary stretches in the fire station can be suddenly interrupted by emergency alarms that require us to go from complete rest at night to heavy exertion activities for lengthy periods. Yes indeed, firefighters react immediately to station or pager alarms with significant increases in heart pounding pulse rates. During fire suppression, we work at near maximal heart rates while wearing about 50 pounds of protective equipment, sometimes for prolonged periods.

No, we don?t focus on the medical influences of heat stress and fluid losses that can result in decreases in cardiac output despite sustained rapid racing of the heart. We accept self-contained breathing apparatus use has reduced, but not eliminated chemical exposures including carbon monoxide, particulates and other toxicants. And we never think about firefighters experiencing intermittent noise exposure, which may increase blood pressure. You bet, firefighters working (24) shift work in busy fire stations, sometimes for three consecutive (24hr) shifts, and that along with several emergency responses, increases the risk of cardiovascular arousal and over time, advanced coronary heart disease (CHD).



Medical findings and I quote: ?Support previous suggestions that emergency events during or within a day after fighting a fire are likely to be work-precipitated. In addition, the onset of symptoms during other work events likely to result in cardiovascular arousal also suggests work-relatedness.

There is a strong consensus that fire fighting is a physically demanding occupation requiring good cardiovascular fitness. Our study demonstrated that more strenuous occupational activities carried the highest relative risks of CHD death. Furthermore, we found a significantly higher prevalence of recognized and largely modifiable risk factors among firefighters succumbing to on-duty CHD death.

Despite recommendations that all firefighters receive periodic, occupational medical examinations, the fire service is FAILING to provide adequate medical programs to many U.S. firefighters. Major obstacles include the upfront costs of wellness and medical programs, as well as, the concerns of firefighters and unions that fitness for duty programs may remove some firefighters from active duty.

More than a typical employer, the fire service affects firefighters' risk profiles beyond their immediate work activities in areas such as physical training, smoking policies, on-site nutrition and work schedules. Firefighters risk their lives to protect society. Given the preventable nature of CHD, the leading cause of on-duty deaths, fire departments, unions, workers compensation and pension authorities have an obligation to work together to implement adequate medical programs for all firefighters?. END

In conclusion, the informative sources/links below and my experience on the front lines and in retirement provide this writer with valid information to pass on. I would suggest you take the time to read the various sources and become much more enlightened about (CAD). The life you save may be your own?

Finally, we can discuss this important issue until we?re blue in the face, no pun intended. We know about the leading cause and #1 killer of brave firefighters ?young and old? over the years. And only until we ALL get off our duster -- can we expect to turn around the consistent annual LODD statistics into lower numbers. The bottom line, and I repeat is simple, we desperately need adequate medical programs/screening for ALL firefighters followed by appropriate/disciplined treatment of coronary heart disease.

International Association Of Fire Chiefs Policy Statement Proposed by the Health and Safety Committee and Approved by the IAFC Board of Directors December 1996.

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