Unless this is your first time reading this column, you are pretty much aware that we feel that among the best ways to minimize injury and death to firefighters is through a system that uses policy development, validation, classroom and hands-on training, training verification, testing, policy...
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The cardiologist said that my EKG readings were abnormal and that he would like to perform a nuclear stress test to eliminate the possibility of any false-positive interpretation. The nuclear stress test was completed the next day and it revealed a blockage. I was immediately scheduled for cardiac catheterization the following morning. The cardiac catheterization exposed five blockages, of which two were 100% blocked involving the left anterior descending artery, and three smaller, partially blocked coronary arteries.
Once this was discovered, the cardiologist brought my family in and explained there was a possibility that a triple bypass needed to be performed, but he was going to first attempt to place cardiac stints in the needed areas. After about an hour, he was successful in placing two of the stints, but I needed to return in two weeks so he could place three more. The cardiologist, knowing I was in the fire service, informed my family and I that not only did the fire department physical exam save my life, but that I most likely would not have survived another one or two months without the cardiac problems being detected.
On May 1, 2009, I had my second catheterization completed to place the remaining three stints. During this second procedure, my blood pressure dropped and I had the unique experience of going into cardiac arrest. A balloon pump and medication were used to stabilize me. With some great work by my doctor and the staff, the stints were placed and I am here to pass along the importance of getting your annual physical.
In closing, I would like to explain that my required departmental annual physical saved my life. Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to tell my story to others, especially those in the fire service.
Comments by Chief Goldfeder and others regarding this month's close call.
It's no secret that firefighters are dying on the job from preventable cardiovascular conditions. Sudden cardiac death represents the most common cause of a firefighter line-of-duty death. Below are recommendations to minimize the risk of injury and death to firefighters from cardiovascular events. According to nearly all fire service organizations, these measures can drastically reduce risk, so fire departments should take the following steps to reduce on-duty heart attacks and other sudden cardiovascular events:
• Provide policy-driven medical evaluations to ensure that firefighter candidates and members are capable of performing job tasks with minimal risk of sudden incapacitation
• Ensure that physicians conducting medical evaluations are knowledgeable about the physical demands of firefighting, the essential tasks of firefighting and the consensus guidelines developed by the fire service
• Implement a comprehensive wellness/fitness program for firefighters to reduce risk factors for cardiovascular disease and improve cardiovascular capacity
• Control exposure to carbon monoxide and other fire contaminants through proper management of the fire scene and proper use of respiratory protection
• Ensure adequate staffing levels for operations to prevent over-exertion
• Provide on-scene rehabilitation to monitor vital signs for indication of excessive cardiovascular strain and to cool and hydrate firefighters
• Implement a comprehensive hearing-conservation program
We are certainly glad that Lieutenant Chandler is alive and well to tell his story, and we appreciate him doing so. Unfortunately, so many firefighters are at high risk of experiencing what he did, but are not provided the opportunity to get a physical for a variety of reasons. Or they simply choose to not take advantage of the opportunity. Numerous resources are available to firefighters and chiefs, including:
Also, check out The Fire Service Joint Labor Management Wellness/Fitness Initiative through your International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) or International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) contacts.
WILLIAM GOLDFEDER, EFO, a Firehouse® contributing editor, is a 33-year veteran of the fire service. He is a deputy chief with the Loveland-Symmes Fire Department in Ohio, an ISO Class 2 and CAAS-accredited department. Goldfeder has been a chief officer since 1982, has served on numerous IAFC and NFPA committees, and is a past commissioner with the Commission on Fire Accreditation International. He is a graduate of the Executive Fire Officer Program at the National Fire Academy and is an active writer, speaker and instructor on fire service operational issues. Goldfeder and Gordon Graham host the free and noncommercial firefighter safety and survival website www.FirefighterCloseCalls.com. Goldfeder may be contacted at BillyG@FirefighterCloseCalls.com.