Firefighters are 300x more likely to suffer a heart attack at work than any other profession (source: Harvard School of Public Health). Heart attacks are the #1 killer of firefighters. In fact, according to a Harvard University Study, Heart Disease kills more on-duty firefighters than anything else — and it is definitely linked to their emergency duties1. The study states that the most frequent cause of death among firefighters is coronary heart disease rather than burns or smoke inhalation. Cardiovascular events account for 45% of deaths among firefighters on duty in contrast to 15% of all deaths that occur on conventional jobs.2
Some possible explanations for the high mortality from cardiovascular events among firefighters include smoke and chemical exposure, irregular physical exertion, the handling of heavy equipment and materials, heat stress, shift work, a high prevalence of cardiovascular risk factors and psychological stressors. According to Harvard Researcher Stefanos N. Kales, MD, MPH, “Battling fires and rescuing civilians involve sudden, extreme exertion and exposure to toxic environments. These job risks make heart disease all the more deadly for firefighters.” He stated:
- Firefighters are 12 to 136 times more likely to die of heart disease when putting out a fire.
- Firefighters are 3 to 14 times more likely to die of heart disease while responding to an alarm.
- Firefighters are 2 to 10.5 times more likely to die of heart disease while returning from an alarm.
- Firefighters are 3 to 7 times more likely to die of heart disease during physical training
According to Linda Rosenstock, MD, MPH, Dean of the University of California, Los Angeles School of Public Health “They (firefighters) work in tough environments, they wear heavy equipment, they are highly stressed, and they are exposed to chemical toxins that may aggravate their cardiac risk. And all of these exposures are occurring during the period when these fatal events occur. We want to avoid every one of those deaths, in this work force particularly, because they put themselves at risk helping us”.3
A landmark study conducted at Saint Joseph’s Hospital in Atlanta sponsored by the Federal Emergency Management Administration states firefighters are known to have a three hundred percent increased risk for cardiac disease as compared to other segments of the population. H. Robert Superko, MD, principal investigator discussed the typical work scenario in which firefighters face every day, “Imagine being awakened from a dead sleep by a loud, shrieking siren several times during the night, responding through the rush of adrenaline, carrying a hundred pounds of equipment on your back, and meeting people at the very worst possible moments in their lives every day and you can begin to understand the toll it takes on the first responders. “And, consider the emotional and psychological stress they encounter each day as they respond to society’s most brutal moments from murders to car wrecks and death. Finally, those who serve as first responders have a mind-set and a desire to help people. They certainly bring a competitive nature to the job but also a profound desire to help and to do the best for others. All these elements create an environment that puts them at an increased risk for cardiac disease.” 4
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention - FIRE FIGHTER FATALITY INVESTIGATION AND PREVENTION PROGRAM