Fire Prevention & Protection, Firefighting, Health & Safety

NIOSH Releases Reports on Firefighter Deaths Due to Heart Attacks and Exertion

Washington, D.C. – The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has released reports on firefighter deaths that occurred during training, physical fitness activities, and after resting at the station.

In July, NFPA stated that heart attacks were one of the leading causes of firefighter fatalities. According to NFPA, the top killer of firefighters in 2001, as it has been in recent years, was overexertion or stress that led to on-the-job heart attacks. Of 99 deaths in 2001,heart attacks killed 40. In all cases, the heart attacks were attributed to stress or overexertion. Twelve of those heart attacks occurred at a fire. Three of the recently released reports cover: a firefighter suffering a heart attack during training, a firefighter suffering a probably heart attack after resting at the station, and a firefighter dying while exercising.

The NIOSH report makes several suggestions regarding these types of deaths, with several suggestions overlapping:

  • Provide mandatory annual medical evaluations to ALL fire fighters to determine their medical ability to perform duties without presenting a significant risk to the safety and health of themselves or others.
  • Phase in a mandatory wellness/fitness program for fire fighters to reduce risk factors for cardiovascular disease and improve cardiovascular capacity.
  • Provide exercise equipment in all fire stations.
  • Fire fighters should be cleared for duty and for respirator use by a physician knowledgeable about the physical demands of fire fighting, the personal protective equipment used by fire fighters, and the various components of NFPA 1582, the National Fire Protection Association’s Standard on Medical Requirements for Fire Fighters and Information for Fire Department Physicians.
  • Incorporate exercise stress tests into the Fire Department’s medical evaluation program.
  • Provide fire fighters with medical evaluations and clearance to wear SCBA.

    You can read the full reports by visiting