While heroic firefighters lose their lives each year attempting the rescue of those trapped, many more of us lose our lives due to heart attacks and related medical emergencies. This month, a fire captain in Michigan responds, like any of us do regularly, to a house fire, but this time, the...
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The good news is that deaths from heart attacks can be prevented. It has been shown that controlling blood pressure and cholesterol levels can reduce the risk of having a heart attack. Quitting smoking can also reduce the risk of having a heart attack. If your departments does not have established medical screening and wellness programs, tell your doctor that you want to reduce your risk of having a heart attack due to the increased risk as a firefighter.
The first step to controlling blood pressure and cholesterol levels is lifestyle changes. This includes a minimum of 30 minutes of aerobic exercise four times a week. Also recommended is following the American Heart Association Heart Healthy Diet (viewable at www.americanheart.org/presenter.jhtml?identifier=1200010).
This should be a wake-up call for firefighters and fire service leaders. Fire departments should institute medical screening programs with efforts at identifying and controlling cardiovascular risk factors. For the individual firefighter, ask your physician to help you reduce your risk of having a heart attack. Make the time to exercise and watch your diet. You're not doing it just for yourself; you're doing it for the members of your department, the public and above all your family. Additionally, if you have any of the symptoms in the chart on page 36, immediately schedule an appointment with your doctor. These symptoms may be a sign of more serious cardiovascular disease.
The International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF), National Volunteer Fire Council (NVFC) and National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) have excellent information on reducing your risk of having a heart attack: www.healthy-firefighter.org; www.healthy-firefighter.org; www.iaff.org/HS/index.htm; and www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/2007-133/.
Chief Goldfeder comments:
We are great at taking care of others, but we don't always do as well in taking care of ourselves. Personally, I have taken the steps to do what I have to do, including our annual (required) physicals at my fire department as well as recently having "enjoyed" my first colonoscopy. I love being a firefighter and have since 1973. As the second-oldest member of my department (I am 53), I have a greater chance of having a medical problem on the fireground, especially when I operate interior, so I do what the experts tell me to do for one reason: my family.
While I love my role as a firefighter and still very actively go to fires, my role as a father, husband, brother, son and friend is far more critical. If I don't turn out for a fire, the fire gets handled just fine. I don't care who you are or what role you fill, if you personally don't turn out, we will do fine without you. Miss you? Sure! But function without you? We'll be just fine.
The same cannot be said by your family, the folks who love you. The role you play with them is clearly different, replacing you will be nearly impossible and the heartbreak is beyond horrific.
Two final comments about the above close call from a "tactical standpoint":
- Calling for an ALS unit was smart, although it was for the possible victims. Little did the captain realize he was saving his own life. For every run that any fire department responds to where members will be under heavy physical stress, an ALS transport unit should be on the scene for the protection and care of those firefighters. Additionally, every department vehicle should have an automated external defibrillator (AED) as well as an EMS jump kit for initial care.
- As mentioned above, the Shelby-Benona Fire Department participates in an automatic mutual aid program for first-alarm fires. Why do they do this? To ensure adequate staffing on the first-alarm assignment. Tasks such as water supply, apparatus operations, line stretching, forcible entry, venting, searching, rescuing, command, command support and EMS all require firefighters on the initial alarm. Calling later for what should have been dispatched initially can lead to devastating outcomes. Be it a "personal" emergency at a fire or planning ahead so that your department has adequate staffing on the first alarm, there are many predictable outcomes in our history that can be prevented by planning before the next alarm of fire.
Dr. Raymond Basri comments: