Scientists Study Why Firefighters Are at Highest Risk of Heart Attacks

They'll monitor 50 firefighters over a two-year period


Craig Brown, Scotsman | | Friday, December 7, 2012

EDINBURGH, Scotland -- Scots scientists are to investigate why firefighters are more at risk from heart attacks than any other emergency service workers.

  • Scientists to investigate why firefighters at higher risk of heart attacks than other emergency service workers
  • Firefighters far more likely to suffer heart attack than smokers'

Statistics have shown that despite undergoing regular health and fitness checks, members of fire crews are more prone to suffer from cardiac arrests -- which kills thousands of Scots every year -- than any other branch of the emergency services.

A heart attack is the leading cause of death for on-duty firefighters, and they also tend to suffer cardiac arrest at a younger age than the general population.

The British Heart Foundation (BHF) has provided £187,000 to support the new study, which will see academics from Edinburgh University monitor 50 firefighters over a two-year period. Researchers will follow them during fire training -- where they tackle blazes at up to 700C -- to work out the effect their job has on the heart.

A heart attack occurs when one of the coronary arteries supplying blood to the heart muscle becomes blocked, while a cardiac arrest is when a person's heart stops pumping blood round the body and they stop breathing normally.

Many cardiac arrests in adults happen because the person is having a heart attack.

Dr Nick Mills, the consultant cardiologist leading the research at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, said: "The risk of having a heart attack whilst you're in service as a firefighter is highest during fire suppression activity, compared to any other emergency activity.

"A cigarette smoker might have a two-fold risk of having a heart attack -- but there's a 30-fold increased risk of having a heart attack during fire suppression activity."

A previous study in America has even put the risk of death from heart attack for firefighters when battling a blaze at up to 100 times the normal rate,

The US research also showed that though firefighters spend only one to five per cent of their time putting out fires, 32 per cent of deaths from heart attacks occurred at fire scenes.

Though the reason for the increased risk is not fully understood, experts suspect that it may be connected to a combination of the heat and the different stresses placed on the body when fighting a fire.

Dr Hélène Wilson, research advisor at the BHF, said that toxins and smoke given off from fires were also contributing factors.

"We can't be sure exactly what the effects of air pollution are on the heart, particularly at the low levels we find in most UK cities.

"But there is convincing evidence that even low levels of air pollution might be bad for the heart. At higher levels - like those faced by firefighters, for example, or in developing cities like Beijing - pollutants are likely to have a more serious and long-lasting effect. This project will help bring us closer to working out the reasons why pollutants can have such a harmful effect on heart health."

One of those who agreed to take part is Watch Commander Stevie Young of Lothian and Borders Fire and Rescue Service (LBFRS).

Mr Young, 48, said: "My father passed away in his 50s with heart trouble and he started getting heart trouble in his 40s.

"I'm 48 now so I think it's beneficial to find out especially with the job I'm in, quite an active job, so it's beneficial for me to find out more about it."

The Edinburgh study will focus on taking measurements of the heart and blood vessels of the firefighters involved in the study.

By improving the understanding of how tackling fires places such a strain on the body, researchers hope to develop new ways to look after and protect the health of firefighters.

Initial findings of researchers have suggested that even simple measures such as drinking water more frequently could reduce the level of risk of attacks.

LBFRS Group Safety Commander David Mackie said: "There's obviously a huge amount of variables in this and so there hasn't been a huge amount of research in this country.

"It's really important that we bottom this out and get the facts about it and try and do as much as we can to prevent any ill-health among our staff."

Copyright © 2013 LexisNexis, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. Terms and Conditions | Privacy Policy

Connect: Have a thought or feedback about this? Add your comment now
Related Topics: News, heart attack, cardiac arrest

What's Your Take? Comment Now ...

Featured Careers & Jobs in EMS


Get JEMS in Your Inbox


Fire EMS Blogs

Blogger Browser

Today's Featured Posts


EMS Airway Clinic

Innovation & Progress

Follow in the footsteps of these inspirational leaders of EMS.
More >

Multimedia Thumb

Details on Discipline Released in D.C. Investigation

Interim fire chief claims punishment was not severe enough.
Watch It >

Multimedia Thumb

Kentucky Firefighters Recovering from Injuries

One of the four remains in critical condition.
Watch It >

Multimedia Thumb

Three Kentucky Firefighters Injured in Ice Bucket Challenge

Campbellsville tower ladder comes in contact with power lines.
Watch It >

Multimedia Thumb

NAEMT: Transforming EMS

A look inside at the Mobile Healthcare Paramedic system.
Watch It >

Multimedia Thumb

Numerous Rescues during Arizona Flooding

Severe flooding across the region prompted several rescues.
More >

Multimedia Thumb

Colorado Hiker Rescue

Injured hiker spent three hours in a crevice.
More >

Multimedia Thumb

Airlift at Swiss Train Derailment

Helicopters used to help reach the injured.
More >

Multimedia Thumb

LMA MAD Nasal™

Needle-free intranasal drug delivery.
Watch It >

Multimedia Thumb

VividTrac offered by Vivid Medical - EMS Today 2013

VividTrac, affordable high performance video intubation device.
Watch It >

Multimedia Thumb

Field Bridge Xpress ePCR on iPad, Android, Kindle Fire

Sneak peek of customizable run forms & more.
Watch It >

More Product Videos >