Wednesday, January 7, 2009

A firefighter’s unlikely killer: heart attacks

Running into a building on fire might seem like the obvious culprit for deaths among firefighters.

But in the last several years, the number one killer among firefighters is heart attacks.

As surprising as this seems, I myself was caught off guard when I heard this statistic while visiting the Perry Fire Department.

A long list of names of firefighters and their cause of death is tacked to an office wall. It serves as a constant reminder of the dangers they face.

When Lt. Tim Sitz started putting the list up about two years ago, it was meant to inform firefighters of these dangers and how they could prevent them.

Since Dec. 23, 111 firefighters have died and more than 50 percent have been the result of heart attacks. Given the amount of stress the job entails, it is a likely contributor to the high number of heart attacks, Perry firefighter Steve “Russell” Butsco said.

“If you take the average firefighter. He’s the average Joe,” said Butsco, the department’s health and wellness coordinator. “Granted we’re not in the most perfect shape, but we’re mostly physically fit.

When that alarm rings, you get that adrenaline surge and your heart rate goes up.”
A few years ago the International Association of Firefighters and the International Association of Fire Chiefs teamed up with the American Council on Exercise and formed a wellness and fitness initiative.

Taking a few tips from that initiative, the department invested in a weight room, which many firefighters choose to use during their down time.

Add an annual physical from the department’s physician and local firefighters are hoping they can beat the trend.

“We’re starting to learn and listen to make sure we do the right things to test people,” Butsco said. “Within our own department, we know we’ve run across things that have saved people.”

To view the firefighter list, go to:

- Jacob Lammers


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