New White Paper Includes Checklist to Help Firefighters Prevent Cardiac Disease

( NVFC )

The National Fallen Firefighters Foundation recently brought together fire service leaders, firefighters, researchers, and physicians for a Heart to Heart Conference to address the leading cause of line-of-duty deaths – heart disease. The corresponding white paper has now been released, which includes checklists to help firefighters reduce their risk of cardiovascular disease as well as assist company officers and chief officers in encouraging heart health among their firefighters.

“Each year about half of all firefighter line-of-duty deaths are caused by heart disease,” said NVFC First Vice Chair Steve Hirsch, who represented the NVFC at the conference. “There are many things firefighters can do to reduce their risks and prevent cardiac-related death and disability. It is important that the fire service community works together to address this critical issue and identify the most effective ways to protect our nation’s boots-on-the-ground firefighters.”

The report includes a checklist of 10 actions firefighters can take to reduce their risks of cardiovascular disease. These changes require firefighters to take personal responsibility and accountability for their health. Firefighters should:

  1. Maintain a high level of physical fitness
  2. Obtain an annual physical, even if it is not provided by the department
  3. Routinely monitor blood pressure and control hypertension (if present)
  4. Maintain or take actions to reach a healthy weight
  5. Avoid tobacco use
  6. Eat a healthy diet
  7. Avoid excessive use of alcohol
  8. Maintain normal lipid levels
  9. Wear SCBA from initial attack to completion of overhaul
  10. Get adequate sleep

Company officers and crew bosses need to support these actions, enforce existing department policies, and facilitate policy change where needed. Company officers should:

  1. Encourage high levels of fitness
  2. Promote good nutrition
  3. Reinforce the importance of knowing your cardiovascular disease risk factor profile and working to improve it
  4. Promote a tobacco-free lifestyle
  5. Encourage a supportive environment for meeting health and fitness goals
  6. Ensure the wearing of SCBA from initial attack to completion of overhaul

The report also includes the role fire service leadership and national organizations can take in promoting health and wellness in the fire service and facilitating positive change. Fire service leaders should:

  1. Require pre-employment medical evaluations
  2. Require annual medical evaluations
  3. Require return-to-work evaluations
  4. Implement physical fitness programs
  5. Implement comprehensive wellness programs
  6. Promote a tobacco-free workplace
  7. Ensure that incident scene rehabilitation is established for emergency incidents and training drills

“Ultimately it comes down to the firefighter – each person is responsible for their own choices when it comes to their individual health,” Hirsch said. “But the leaders in the fire service need to be there to encourage positive behaviors and offer the support and resources to help each firefighter make the life saving decisions recommended in this report. And if we have personnel who are not adhering to department requirements or policies, then we need to take the appropriate disciplinary actions. Closing our eyes to this critical issue can have tragic consequences and is simply not acceptable.”

Read full white paper, Heart to Heart: Strategizing an Evidence-based Approach to Reduce Cardiac Disease and Death in the Fire Service