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Fatal Firefighter Heart Attacks Preventable, Says NIOSH

Heart attacks and other heart-related conditions are the most common cause of on-duty firefighter fatalities, but the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) asserts that such deaths can be prevented.

In NIOSH's most recent alert, “Preventing Fire Fighter Fatalities Due to Heart Attacks and Other Sudden Cardiovascular Events," personal factors (age, gender family history, smoking, lack of exercise) and work-related factors (fire smoke exposure, physical exertion, heat stress) contribute to firefighters having coronary artery disease and dying from sudden cardiac arrest.

The following factors frequently were involved with the on-duty sudden cardiac deaths among firefighters investigated by NIOSH:

  • Inadequate medical evaluations of candidates or members.
  • Insufficient work restrictions following the identification of specific medical conditions.
  • Absence of, or non-participation in an adequate fitness or wellness program.
  • Delayed access to, or inadequate training on, automated external defibrillators (AED).
  • The sudden death of the firefighter while driving either a fire department vehicle or the firefighter’s personal vehicle while responding to an emergency incident.

However, NIOSH asserted that fire departments, firefighters and fire service agencies can take steps to prevent such deaths and offered the following recommended measures:

  • Fire departments should offer medical evaluation programs to ensure that candidates are capable of performing job tasks with minimal risk of sudden incapacitation.
  • Firefighters should participate in comprehensive wellness and fitness programs.
  • Fire department should provide personal protective equipment to prevent over-exertion and heat stress of firefighters.
  • Fire departments should control exposure to carbon monoxide and other fire contaminants through proper management of the fire scene and proper use of respiratory protection.

The alert is available on-line at

TAGS: Archive Health
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