When firefighters become suddenly incapacitated on the job, it endangers their lives. It may also put other lives at risk as they work to rescue people from burning buildings or douse flames before they spread. Firefighters and emergency responders undoubtedly have dangerous jobs with many occupational hazards that the average worker in the United States does not have to consider in their line of work. One of the most prevalent hazards of being a firefighter or a first responder is the increased occurrence of cardiac arrest and other heart problems.
Research has yet to offer a clear picture of why so many firefighters killed on the job die of cardiac arrest rather than from fire-related injuries. Fire service statistics show sudden cardiac events were a leading cause of line of duty death. Research shows that firefighters are more likely to suffer a cardiac event after firefighting versus station duties. Firefighting is recognized globally as one of the most dangerous professions.
In the U.S., about 45 percent of firefighters’ on-duty deaths are due to cardiovascular events. The harsh conditions can cause injury to the heart and may explain the link between fire suppression and risk of heart attacks.
Why Heart-Related Deaths and Accidents Occur
In a recent study, researchers concluded that roughly one in five cardiac cases were heart attack deaths; 82 percent of those deaths were related to coronary heart disease (narrowing of the heart arteries or enlarged hearts). This ties to an increase in risk of sudden cardiac death.
Exposure to smoke, soot and chemicals in the air, as well as disrupted sleep patterns and high levels of occupational stress might all contribute to heart problems. Research indicates that the stress of firefighting (heavy muscular work, heat stress, sympathetic nervous system activation, and exposure to smoke) triggers a cardiac event in individuals with underlying disease. The study had limitations but the results offer evidence of the dangers of high-stress, physically demanding jobs for people with underlying heart disease.
It is extremely dangerous for individuals who have underlying heart disease to perform heavy work, especially in stressful situations that produce a surge of adrenaline and related hormones that challenge the cardiovascular system.
Blood Clotting and Firefighting
The risk of blood clotting increased in response to physical exertion and extreme temperatures. Lower blood pressure immediately following fire suppression is likely due to dehydration and an increase in blood being diverted to the skin to help the body cool down.
Anyone that exerts themselves in extreme temperatures should take time afterward to rehydrate and cool down. By maintaining a good level of fitness and engaging in active cooling and rehydration following firefights, these men and women may be able to at least slightly reverse cardiovascular risks. Raising awareness of these potential threats could save the lives of many lifesavers.
Because firefighting and emergency response are occupations with such high risk of on-the-job injuries, it is imperative that these operations have insurance programs in place that can handle all of their insurance needs.