Heart attacks claim more firefighters annually than any other cause.
That's why NIOSH officials suggest both volunteer and career departments adopt and enforce health programs and medical evaluations.
They recently released two reports following the sudden cardiac deaths of two personnel, a volunteer chief and a career firefighter.
On April, 4, 2006, Richard Sullivan, 57, was found deceased in his house. The previous evening he had participated in a strenuous training drill.
The chief of Horseheads Vol. Fire Dept., in Horseheads, NY, had a history of various medical issues. No autopsy was performed.
The local coroner listed the death as the result of coronary artery disease.
The other case probed by NIOSH involved a 49-year old career firefighter from Clark County, Nevada, who collapsed while exercising on a treadmill in his station.
Despite immediate advanced life support care by his colleagues on Aug. 8, 2006, Richard Washington Jr. died.
The cause of death was listed as atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease.
NIOSH made the following recommendations:
- Ensure all fire department members participate in fire department pre-placement and periodic medical evaluations.
- Ensure firefighters at risk for CAD receive exercise stress tests.
- Ensure firefighters are cleared for duty by a physician knowledgeable about the physical demands of firefighting, the personal protective equipment used by firefighters, and the various components of NFPA 1582.
- Perform an annual physical performance (physical ability) evaluation to ensure fire fighters are physically capable of performing the essential job tasks of structural firefighting.
- Develop a structured wellness/fitness program for firefighters to reduce risk factors for cardiovascular disease and improve cardiovascular capacity.
- Perform an autopsy on all on-duty fir fighter fatalities.