Health researchers aim to identify at-risk firefighters

INDIANAPOLIS - While first responders and firefighters are required to be physically fit to meet the daily demands of their jobs, many, surprisingly, are at a high risk for heart disease and heart attack, doctors say.

Harvard University School of Health, Public Safety Medical, and IU Health are collaborating on a study that will essentially help firefighters live longer on the job and long after they retire or move on to other opportunities,  RTV6's Jack Rinehart reported.

The average firefighter wears 75-pounds of protective gear while battling tremendous heat, water, ice and the severe stress of fighting the fire. It isn't a job for the faint of heart.

Harvard's Dr. Stefano Kales said the risk for heart attacks is higher among firefighters.

"During that time, firefighters are anywhere from 10 to 100 times more likely to suffer a sudden cardiac death event than they are doing active duty," Kales said.

Rather than flames, 48-percent of fire fighters die in line-of-duty deaths from heart attacks, while only six percent die from smoke inhalation.

And the average age of a firefighter dying from a heart attack is 50 years old, compared with men in the general population who die at 65 years, Dr. Steven Moffatt said.

"More firefighters are disabled and die of heart disease than fire. The fire service does a wonderful job of protecting their firefighters from injury and we're only touching the surface of that," Moffatt said.

More than 400 Indianapolis firefighters have volunteered to participate in heart study research to develop effective methods that will identify individuals most at risk for heart disease. The study will help researchers develop more effective treatments that will decrease fire fighter mortality.

IFD Captain Ron Kautsky is volunteering for the study.

"If there's a way to know that I could prevent a possible heart attack, I'm all in. I want to know," Kautsky said.

Given the important role that firefighters play in protecting public safety, researchers says it's important to understand the factors that contribute to their high rates of disease and early death.

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