Firefighter Killer: Heart Disease
Heart Disease Is Firefighters' Biggest On-Duty Death Risk
WebMD News Archive
Saving Firefighters' Lives -- and Your Life continued...
For all these reasons, underlying heart disease adds a huge risk to an
already risky job. That's why Rosenstock recommends that all fire departments
- require firefighters to undergo prehire and annual medical
- implement wellness and fitness programs to reduce heart disease risk
- require annual physical performance tests for all firefighters
Firefighters tend to be far fitter and healthier than civilians --
especially if they work full time at the job. But 70% of firefighters are
"The fitness requirements at entry and continuing through working life
are much higher on the career side than on the voluntary side," Rosenstock
says. "Very few paid firefighters continue after age 50. But the volunteer
work force is older -- and with age comes added risk."
This means that the biggest threat to firefighters may be the fire on the
firehouse stove, says nutritionist David W. Grotto, RD, LDN. Grotto's book,
101 Foods That Could Save Your Life, is scheduled for release next
Grotto, a spokesman for the American Dietetic Association, remembers going
to a Chicago firehouse last summer to teach a seminar on heart-healthy
"The first day I went there, I smelled something like bacon cooking. It
was a big pot of sausages and onions all swimming in butter," Grotto tells
WebMD. "And as the firefighters gathered around for the seminar, another
guy was making them grilled cheese sandwiches on white bread, slathered with
By the end of the summer, after getting the firefighters to cut back on fats
and to eat more soluble fiber and more fruits and vegetable, the firefighters'
cholesterol levels sank along with their heart risk.
Grotto didn't teach an exercise class. But he might have. He noticed that
the couch in front of the station's huge television set got far more use than
the station's weight room.
That lesson isn't just for firefighters. Anyone who leads a largely
sedentary lifestyle is at serious risk of heart death with sudden, strenuous
"This study is a confirmation of what we know: that regular exercise is,
in general, protective against heart disease," Kales says. "But if you
are sedentary and suddenly embark on physical activity, there is definitely a
Proper diet and exercise lessens the risk of heart disease. But firefighters
who already have heart disease may need to switch to less hazardous duty.
"If significant heart disease is diagnosed in a firefighter, given the
dramatic risks involved in these duties, a very careful discussion has to go on
in advising this person whether it is safe to return to duty," Kales says.
"It is not the same as returning to a desk job after having a heart