Health Beat- Protecting Against Heart Disease And Other Hazards

By Mary Jane Dittmar, Senior Associate Editor

LA Fire Captain Smith comments on firefighters and heart disease
Following are some comments and observations by Los Angeles City Fire Captain (ret.) Jerry Smith concerning firefighter line-of-duty-deaths (LODDs) attributed to cardiovascular disease. He also presents some suggestions for helping to reduce the incidence of heart attacks among firefighters. This information is from “So You’re Turning Fifty: How Safe Are You From a Fatal Heart Attack?” (c)Emergency Grapevine, Captain Smith kindly gave permission for its use.

  • “Sooner than later all firefighters are going to have to get very serious about their heart health. Yes indeed, a conscious and dedicated effort to learn as much as possible about the prevention of coronary artery disease and then do everything physically possible to improve fitness on and off the job. I would hope your fire station and home have exercise equipment for you to use and it’s now an important part of your daily routine.
  • “NFPA (National Fire Protection Association) 1582, [Standard on Medical Requirements for Fire Fighters and Information for Fire Department Physicians], and NFPA 1583, [Standard on Health Related Fitness Program for Fire Fighters], cover standards for periodic medical examination and health-related fitness programs.
  • “It is my hope that every reader of this article will find the motivation to get involved and help to reduce the risk of early heart disease by more awareness education, self-help programs, and improving personal fitness.
  • “Since September 2001, the Texas State Fire Marshal has investigated eight line-of-duty deaths in the Lone Star state. Five of those deaths were caused by heart attacks. And of the LODDs not caused by heart, autopsies revealed two of the three firefighters were in the early stages of heart disease. That should send a warning of caution to all younger firefighters around the world about the fact that firefighters are very vulnerable to coronary artery disease (CAD) because of the heated environment they often work in.
  • “The Texas Fire Marshal is very forthright in advocating that every volunteer and career firefighter must take the initiative in reducing the number of heart attack deaths of firefighters.
  • ” ‘We all know firefighting is a dangerous profession,’ says Rita Fahy, Ph.D., manager of fire databases and systems at NFPA. ‘But, some of the biggest dangers occur away from fires. That’s why prevention efforts must involve not just training and equipment, but also helping firefighters stay in shape and cope with stress ….’
  • “This editorial focuses on your taking self-inventory of your general health and learning much more about CAD. Like, when was the last time you had a comprehensive physical examination with special emphasis on your heart health? You know-a stress test and blood workup analysis with fasting that measured your good and bad cholesterol? How about a frank discussion with your doctor about smoking, being overweight, high blood pressure, stress, family genetics; indeed, your bloodline is very important.
  • ” You know you haven’t worried that much about what you eat, drink, or smoke. If it feels good, that’s all that matters; you never wanted to feel you’re being restrained from enjoying the good life you can afford.
  • ” You say, you just turned FIFTY, my congratulations! What do you think your chances are of living for another 25 years or more overweight, drinking too much, and still smoking cigarettes? God willing, you might enjoy a quality of life in the so-called Golden Years, provided you’re lucky enough not to die suddenly from a heart attack during the prime of your life.
  • “No! You shouldn’t be that concerned or fearful about collapsing in the next few hours …. You feel good, and you have no need to worry about a pending heart attack or that you have advanced heart disease. Or, do you?

“What about 18 firefighters this year [at the time the editorial was written] that have died on duty from heart-related episodes? Did they know anything about their apparent failing health? Heart attacks, once again like every year, are way out front as the leading cause of LODDs …. Imagine the national attention if 18 firefighters in the first four months of any year had fallen through roofs or collapsing floors on 18 separate fires? Everyone would be talking about it, and special procedures/evolutions would be in place to reduce the risk.”

Chief Smith refers his readers to and, click on “Stay Safe” (left side) and then “Wellness & Fitness Initiative,” a joint International Association of Fire Fighters and International Association of Fire Chiefs program. He can be reached at

Some considerations about low-fat foods
With all the emphasis on heart health and fitness, thoughts turn to diets and more healthful eating. But, all may not be what it seems. Consider the following, for example:

  • Although eating foods lower in fat can help to reduce fat intake, eating them will not necessarily decrease calorie consumption or your weight.
  • You don’t have to use reduced-fat foods to lower you fat consumption. You can increase your intake of vegetables, fruits, and grains; decrease the amount of fat used in cooking; eat less met; or reduce your consumptions of foods such as desserts, ice cream, sweets, and chips.
  • Many reduced-fat snacks and foods have more sugar or other ingredients that make the calorie count about the same as the higher-fat foods.
  • Limiting fat is part of controlling calories for weight control, but it’s not the whole answer. You also have to control portion sizes. And, you must eat a diet that contains balanced food choices, to ensure proper nutrition. (“Do low-fat foods really help?” Karen Collins, R.D.,, July 1, 2003)

    New technologies are aimed at improving responder health and safety
    Do you believe that a new device, piece of equipment, or special application can improve your safety when responding to fires, medical emergencies, haz-mat incidents, and special operations? If so, the Emergency Response Technology (ERT) program at the Robert C. Byrd National Technology Transfer Center (NTTC) would like to hear from you. The NTTC is a full-service technology management center established by Congress in 1989.

    Among technologies it has investigated or is investigating include the following: a system for locating victims in rubble, the Haz Mat Smart Strip, now available for fire department use (see for additional information); an incident commander radio interface portable system; a personnel locator/monitor with 3D graphics and the ability to monitor the vital signs of first responders in real time; enhanced multimission structural firefighting personal protective equipment that can be used to protect against multiple hazards; one-piece fire protective clothing with improved closures enhancement and locking or integrated gloves/boots and a breathable head; a radio-activated, reasonably priced personal alert safety system (PASS) that allows for two-way emergency alerting: manual activation by the incident commander and a visible and audible warning with an audible sound distinct from the normal sound of the PASS device; and an extended mission or deduced mass mission air supply respirator that is rechargeable with easily obtained sources such as standard air supply equipment or an existing LOX systems.

    Additional information on the program is available at, or contact Mike Lucey, program director at

    Teflon fumes pose hazard in Houston warehouse fire
    Eleven firefighters, four police officers, and two civilians were hospitalized in a warehouse fire in Houston on June 25. When fire officials arrived, light smoke was coming from the warehouse. They found an electric oven on fire with Teflon burning inside. You may be familiar with Teflon as a coating for nonstick cookware; it is used also for electrical insulation and gaskets. When it burns, it produces hydrochloric gases. Power to the oven was cut off, and haz-mat crews were on hand to mitigate the incident. As a precautionary measure, the firefighters, police officers, and civilians who had come in contact with the toxic fumes were taken to the hospital. (KPRC, Houston; Yahoo! News, July 1, 2003)

    NIOSH to study toluene diisocyanate and possible asthma link
    The National Institute of Science and Health (NIOSH), in conjunction with the American Chemistry Council, will collect and review data from occupational medical surveillance and industrial hygiene monitoring in companies that manufacture toluene diisocyanate, a building block of polyurethanes. The objective is to evaluate the potential for asthma and the need to improve protection for workers in the industry. The diisocyanate family of chemicals is the most commonly used class of chemicals reported to cause occupational asthma. (NIOSHeNewsAdmin, Vol. 1, No. 2, June 9, 2003)

    Mary Jane Dittmar is senior associate editor of Fire Engineering magazine and Before joining the magazine in 1991, she served as editor of a trade magazine in the health/nutrition market and held various positions in the educational and medical advertising fields. She has a bachelor’s degree in English/journalism and a master’s degree in communication arts. She can be reached at

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