Is it the job or your body?

The 2007 Firefighter Fatality report was released this week by the National Fire Protection Agency. 102 firefighters were killed, compared to 89 in 2006. Still the fire service maintains the traditional “100 die on average each year” average. The general numbers were reported this Spring, but the complete report shows numbers that may be surprising to some. 36 deaths were under Fireground Operations for Type of Duty. This is the fourth lowest in 10 years and the sixth lowest since the studies have begun. Exertion or stress continue to be leaders in the categories of Cause of Fatal Injury or Illness and Nature of Fatal Injury or Illness. Read further into Nature and we find that:

  • 38 victims of sudden cardiac events
  • 10 had severe arteriosclerotic heart disease
  • 5 were hypertensive
  • 4 had prior heart problems
  • 3 were diabetic

In the past 25 years, post mortem information regarding medical history available of sudden cardiac death victims revealed that 92% had prior cardiovascular problems. In 2003 the National Volunteer Fire Council launched the Heart Healthy Firefighter Program. Health screenings of 8,000 career and volunteer firefighters over a four year period revealed:

  • 37% tested had high or borderline high levels of cholesterol
  • Only 16.9% had normal blood pressure
  • 44.7% were “obese” (25% or more body fat for males, 32% or more for females)

Firefighters over the age of 60 had the greatest number of deaths caused by a sudden cardiac event. Ages 51 to 55 were the second greatest.

There is debate about the numbers used in the line of duty death reports. Not the actual counts themsleves, but how the counts are classified and how the definition of “line of duty” has changed. Some believe that the 65-year old volunteer fire-police member who has a heart attack while directing traffic shouldn’t be considered an LODD, that he really has no business being out there. That may be true, but if we take him out of the equation, what about the 45-year old career member in poor health who’s department doesn’t have a PT program? What do you do with the guy who is one Krispy Kreme away from a triple bypass?

References

Firefighter Fatalities in the United States 2007 Rita F. Fahy, Paul R. LeBlanc and Joseph L. Molis, July 2008

NVFC Heart-Healthy Firefighter Program

National Firefighter Health Week, August 18 – 22, 2008

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1 Comment

  • Anonymous says:

    On the matter of physical fitness, I couldn’t agree more. I am so sick of hearing how “deadly” the fire service is, when most of the deaths are attributed to senior citizens who could just as easily have dropped dead on the way to the grocery store or the younger guys who do absolutely no preventative maintenance on their bodies. To count all of these as LODD’s, does nothing but build fictitious percentages and minimizes the sacredness of those who actually did pay the ultimate price in the performance of their duties – 9/11 and a mutlitude of others. I may drop dead from a heart attack or stroke at the firehouse tomorrow during recruit class, but I don’t consider that a LODD.

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“To provide a point of critical thought about certain acts and events in the fire service while incorporating behavioral education and commentary in a referenced format.”

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