Heart attacks – AGAIN!
First of all, the loss of a firefighter is tragic in every sense. It can shatter a fire department and shake the very soul of a community.
But, if an LODD is preventable, it is tragic, but senseless. And the data that is out there tells us that many firefighter deaths are preventable; particularly heart-related deaths.
I have been involved in the fire service since 1980 and cardiac events have led all other categories as the number one killer of firefighters.
And, we can’t seem to get annual LODDs below one hundred. The numbers of fires are going down; yet, our LODDs are basically unchanged, which means a higher incident rate.
For at least twenty-eight years, the fire service has seen an average of 45% of LODDs due to heart attacks.
Even though the science is there; even though the recommendations have been made; even though grants are available for physical fitness equipment/programs, including medical surveillance, we are seeing no signs of improving our mortality rate.
Think about it: half who die from heart attacks had a “known” heart problem, which means that the problem was ignored. One third who died had heart conditions that routine medical testing would have detected, which means that so much as an annual physical wasn’t required.
A recent study showed that firefighters are following a national trend of high cholesterol, high blood pressure and other risk factors associated with heart disease. Add to that sudden, extreme exertion, toxic vapors and heat stress and firefighters with underlying heart problems are at greater risk.
The time is NOW to implement our own programs for better screening of candidates, requiring yearly physicals for everyone, creating physical fitness programs, including nutrition/diet information and to use the NFPA physical fitness standards as our rules.
In this time of national, financial crisis, it becomes paramount that we do everything that we can to protect our own. When cities and fire districts are cutting our manpower, forcing us to do more with less, causing firefighters additional physical and mental stress, WE have to stand up and stop it. We cannot allow governments to add to our number of LODDs.
We should have learned by now that firefighting is a very physical and very demanding job. Our strategies should reflect that. Otherwise, we are guilty by accountability; we become the “enablers”.
I want to go to retirements and not LODD funerals. So for me, the choices are very clear.
Make 2009 the year to remember for the RIGHT reasons.