The number one killer of firefighters in the line of duty is not fire, falls, smoke or vehicle incidents. It is heart disease.
According to the U.S Fire Administration, 50 of the 87 on-duty deaths in 2017 were caused by heart attack PDF 1.5 MB, and two were caused by stroke. Despite programs promoting heart health in the fire service and a push for healthier habits, these statistics have been consistent for many years.
It’s not only high blood pressure and cholesterol firefighters should think about. A 2018 study found other indicators such as an enlarged heart or increased heart wall thickness, things that aren’t normally tested for.
Another study held a surprise. One out of five firefighters with CT scan and ultrasound showing evidence of fatty plaque in heart and neck vessels had no symptoms. Had those firefighters relied on routine testing and symptoms they never would have known their risk for heart attack and stroke.
Heart disease symptoms include chest pain, shortness of breath or fatigue during strenuous activity. It is important to talk to your doctor and discuss screening for all the indicators of cardiovascular disease, including those mentioned above that are not typically tested for, regardless of whether or not you have symptoms. Tests to consider: