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Risks for Fatal Heart Attacks in Firefighters, Preventive Measures Highlighted in NIOSH Report


NIOSH Update:


Contact: Fred Blosser (202) 401-3749
July 23, 2007

Firefighters are dying on the job from heart attacks and other cardiovascular conditions, but measures by fire departments, firefighters, and fire service agencies can prevent such deaths, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) finds in a new alert.

Sudden cardiac death represents the most common cause of on-duty firefighter fatalities, killing about 45 fire fighters each year. “NIOSH Alert: “Preventing Firefighter Fatalities Due to Heart Attacks and Other Sudden Cardiovascular Events,” incorporates findings from 131 NIOSH investigations into sudden cardiac-related deaths in fire fighters, an extensive review of scientific, professional, and medical literature , and review from 12 outside experts in fire service and the occupational health community.

The alert states that, for fire fighters, coronary artery disease and sudden cardiac death involve a combination of personal and work-related factors. Personal factors can include age, gender, family history, diabetes, hypertension, smoking, high cholesterol, obesity, and lack of exercise. Work-related factors can include exposure to fire smoke, heavy physical exertion, heat stress, and other physical stresses.

The alert makes numerous, detailed recommendations for fire departments, fire fighters, firefighter candidates, and fire service agencies to reduce the risk of heart attacks and other sudden coronary events. Some of these recommended measures include:

  • Medical evaluation programs,
  • Comprehensive wellness and fitness programs,
  • Proper use of personal protective equipment,
  • Proper management of the fire scene to reduce hazardous exposures including heat stress.

The alert is available on-line at . NIOSH is sending copies to partner organizations in the fire service, and to each one of the 35,000 fire departments across the U.S.

As part of its overall mission to conduct research for preventing work-related injuries, illnesses, and deaths, NIOSH investigates fire fighter fatalities. From those investigations, it provides findings and recommendations to fire departments and other fire service partners to prevent future deaths. More information on the fire fighter fatality investigation and prevention program is available at For additional information call toll-free 1-800-CDC-INFO (1-800-232-4636) or visit the NIOSH web page at