Health Beat – A Firefighter’s Legacy to New Jersey Firefighters

By Mary Jane Dittmar, Senior Associate Editor

A Firefighter’s Legacy to New Jersey Firefighters: A Free Annual Confidential Cardiovascular Evaluation
The late Dominick Buscio, a captain in the Jersey City (NJ) Fire Department, died at the age of 39 from a heart attack while on a ski vacation with his family. His wife, Donna, said he was “the picture of health” and a physical exam he had 19 months before his death revealed that results were normal, except for a moderately high cholesterol level.

Based on the results of this exam, Buscio decided not to have his annual physical checkup the following year, which, Mrs. Buscio says, “resulted in an inconceivable loss to all of us.”

When she realized that her husband’s death “was not a rarity” and that “heart attack is the largest single killer of firefighters,” Mrs. Buscio decided to share her experience and establish the “A Gift from Captain Buscio” program.

Under the program, New Jersey firefighters and officers can obtain strictly confidential, comprehensive annual medical evaluations with no out-of-pocket cost. Manmohan Patel, M.D., other board-certified cardiologists and pulmonologists, and the renowned Deborah Heart and Lung Center provide the examinations. Dr. Patel is the Center’s medical director.

The program originally began in Jersey City and has been expanded to include the entire state of New Jersey. New Jersey firefighters can find the address of the facility for their department and a telephone number to call to make an appointment at the New Jersey Fireman’s Mutual Benevolent Association Web site at http:/www.njfmba.org/. They may also call (201) 216-3055.

In her message in the “A Gift from Captain Buscio” brochure, Mrs. Buscio says: “My intention is not to instill anxiety. On the contrary, it’s to provide an opportunity for peace of mind. I’m quite certain that this program would have had Dom’s full support, given the current limited opportunities for firefighters to obtain physicals.

” For me, this program, which was founded in Dom’s memory, is an attempt to keep your occupational risk limited to fighting fires …”

Perhaps this program could also serve as an incentive for fire service organizations and departments in other states to reach out to their area medical professionals and medical centers with specializations in cardiovascular and pulmonary health to establish a similar service.

As the “A gift from Captain Buscio” brochure states: “Statistics Tell the Story.” It notes that the trend in the proportion of firefighter fatalities from heart attacks has remained virtually constant since 1984 and that more than one-half of all fatal heart attacks strike firefighters while on the scene of a fire or non-fire emergency.

The brochure also warns: “Firefighter victims may not have had a previous medical history of heart disease. For this reason, getting a comprehensive medical evaluation that is specific to your profession is not just for peace of mind. It is absolutely necessary” (italics added).

Questions may be referred to Mrs. Buscio at dbuscio@aol.com.

U.S. Government Issues New Food Guidelines
The new federal guidelines contain no earth-shattering recommendations for those who have been paying attention to issues related to improved health and nutrition. The full guidelines are at http://www.healthierus.gov/dietaryguidelines/.

Among the recommendations contained in the Guidelines are the following:

  • Eat a variety of nutrient-dense foods and beverages from the basic food groups. Choose foods low in saturated and trans fats, cholesterol, added sugars, and salt. Consume less than 2,300 mg (about 1 teaspoon of salt) of sodium a day.
  • Eat a balanced diet based on the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Guide or the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) (http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/public/heart/hbp/dash) Eating Plan.
  • Consume two cups of fruit and 2 1/2 cups of vegetables a day (based on a 1,200-calorie diet; adjust amounts for number or calories consumed). Vary the choices, i.e., select from all the vegetable subgroups–dark green, orange, legumes, starchy, for example–several times a week.
  • Eat three or more ounce-equivalents of whole-grain products a day. At least half the grains should be whole grains.
  • Consume three cups of fat-free or low-fat milk or equivalent milk products a day. Limit intake of fats and oils high in saturated and/or trans fatty acids.
  • Less than 10 percent of calories should be from saturated fatty acids; less than 300 mg/day of cholesterol; keep trans fatty acid consumption as low as possible.
  • Keep total fat intake between 20 and 35 percent of total daily calories; most fats should be polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fatty acids, such as those in fish, nuts, and vegetable oils. Consume lean, low-fat, or fat-free meats, poultry, and dairy products.
  • Alcoholic beverages should be restricted to a maximum of one drink a day for women and two drinks for men.
  • Maintain a body weight in a healthy range. To prevent gradual weight gain over time, decrease food and beverage calories and increase physical activity.
  • Engage in regular physical activity; reduce sedentary activities. Achieve physical fitness by including cardiovascular conditioning stretching exercises for flexibility and resistance exercises or calisthenics for muscle strength and endurance. (Consult a healthcare provider before starting a program.)

    Note: The National Volunteer Fire Council is to launch “early in 2005” the online “Fired Up for Fitness” program. Firefighters can log and plan their program, and record their personal fitness progress and weight loss. There will also be prizes. The program will be at http://www.healthy-firefighter.org/.

Mary Jane Dittmar is senior associate editor of Fire Engineering and fireEMS magazines and FireEngineering.com. Before joining Fire Engineering 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.

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