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It's with a real heavy heart that I continue to review the stream of line-of-duty-death notifications that pass through my computer. My review of the statistics indicates that more than 50 firefighters died during the first six months of 2001. The list that covers the cause of each death seems to be vaguely familiar, like maybe we have seen them all too often. The obvious question, of course, is why?
It is my intention to say a bit about each of the major death areas. I will then suggest a few things that we may wish to consider doing.
Let me start by saying that there seem to be a lot of people dropping over because of heart attacks. This does not surprise me, as I have lived the lifestyle of the brave and cholesterol ridden for many years. The causes of this malady are well known. You eat too much, you smoke too much and you don't exercise at all. And then suddenly you are racing to the scene of a blaze, raising ladders, dragging hose and rescuing victims. Or you might just be standing at the panel of your pumper insuring that your associates have the right amount of water.
What bothers me in looking at the statistics is the number of people who have died during physical exercise activities. We are told that exercise is good and then bam, over you go during a PT period. But think about it. Maybe we need better screening procedures.
For those of you who really know me, the mere thought of Harry Carter talking about good diet and weight control in an article must be cause for snickering. But I've seen the light. And it appears that it was my volunteer fire department's compliance with the New Jersey Respiratory Protection Standard that saved me from myself.
I did not pass the screening to be fit tested for self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) duty. I have been classified as an exterior-duty-only firefighter. Age and physical circumstances have caught up with me. My pulmonary specialist has confirmed that I have obstructed lung disease. It is not a very serious case, but when you tell a tuba player that his lungs are not what they should be, you get his attention.
I also knew that my personal physician was dead serious (pun intended) when he said something was not right within my hulking body. My weight and blood pressure were up and my exposure to bronchial infection problems was becoming too frequent. He said I needed to lose 20 to 30 pounds right away. Before I could nod or agree, he added, "… you can lose the other 50 to 60 pounds at your leisure." Pow! He struck me right between the eyes.
In this midst of all of this, I twisted my knee stepping down from a pumper after an alarm-malfunction call. The orthopedic specialist suggested that the pain in my knee was a cry from the heart of my soul telling me to pare down my ponderous frame.
What could I do? I was up the creek without the proverbial paddle. I began what I hope is a long-term journey back from the abyss of physical abuse. I have embarked upon a fitness program. I decided not to actually focus on my weight. I just began to alter my diet. I will not bother you with my style of diet, as each of us must find their way in this sad arena, but something good must be happening. I am wearing shirts that I have not worn in nearly five years. I wore a suit to church that had been gathering dust in my closet for some time.
And just prior to beginning this article, I completed my first session on my brand-new treadmill. It is my plan to walk myself back to fitness, one session at a time. I do not envision an easy journey. (I also gave up my favorite brand of Honduran cigar, at the urging of my pulmonary specialist.)