Firefighters Focus on Heart Attack Prevention

Heart attacks are a leading cause of death among firefighters in the United States, according to the U.S. Fire Administration, reports The Associated Press.

“We see line-of-duty deaths due to heart attacks all the time. They happen during fires, after fires, or at night after a long day,” city firefighter Mark Litwinko told The Journal Gazette ( ). “No other line of work has so many cardiac deaths.”

The U.S. Fire Administration estimates that nationwide about 100 firefighters die each year while on duty, and nearly half of those deaths are attributed to heart attacks or other cardiac-related issues. Statewide, an average of 2 1/2 firefighters die each year, according to fire administration data.

When firefighters arrive at a scene, they work at full strength, take a short break and then return to full power, Litwinko explained.

“When our heart rate and blood pressure is going up and down quickly, up and down many times, it weakens the body,” he said.

Environmental causes, such as smoke, heat, humidity and the weight of firefighters’ gear — which can tack on an additional 60 pounds — can also lead to health problems.

“And if you have underlying issues and add that kind of stress to your heart, and throughout the course of your career you do that over and over again, it’s going to have an impact,” Litwinko said.

Last year, there were 83 on-duty firefighter fatalities, 34 of which are known to have been caused by heart attacks, according to the U.S. Fire Administration.

The remaining 49 deaths were caused by vehicle accidents, wild-land fires, shooting deaths, buildings collapsing, falls, firefighters being caught or trapped at the scene of a fire, or other causes.

This year, 24 firefighters have been killed in the U.S., and three of those deaths have been attributed to heart attacks.

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