FIRE FIGHTER FATALITY INVESTIGATION AND PREVENTION PROGRAM
Wildland Fire Fighter Suffers Sudden Cardiac Death During Campfire Patrol – New Mexico
On May 5, 2013, a 26-year-old male seasonal wildland fire fighter (FF), along with his two Engine crewmembers, conducted campfire patrol and terrain familiarization. After hiking with a wildland fire fighting pack for about 3 miles in hilly terrain over approximately 2½-hours at 8000 feet, he reported feeling dizzy and suddenly collapsed. Initial assessment by crewmembers revealed labored breathing with a weak pulse. Shortly after crewmembers removed his pack, the FF became unresponsive with no pulse or respirations. One crewmember began cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) as the other crewmember climbed a short distance to notify Dispatch by portable radio. Approximately 26 minutes later, the Lifeflight helicopter landed and initiated advanced life support (ALS). After 40 minutes of ALS, with no change in his clinical status, Medical Control advised the paramedics to cease resuscitation efforts and the FF was pronounced dead.
The autopsy report, completed by the State Medical Investigator, listed the cause of death as “dilated cardiomyopathy.” NIOSH investigators conclude that the FF’s sudden cardiac death was due to his previously undiagnosed dilated cardiomyopathy. His death may have been precipitated by the moderate physical exertion associated with hiking in hilly terrain at elevation.
NIOSH investigators offer the following recommendations to improve Agency safety and health among wildland fire fighters, however none of these recommendations would have prevented this FF’s death. Implementing these recommendations will demonstrate a continuing commitment to improve the safety culture of the wildland fire service.
Modify the Health Screening Questionnaire (HSQ) to include all cardiovascular risk factors identified by the American Heart Association/American College of Cardiology (AHA/ACC).
Consider providing pre-placement and periodic medical evaluations to ALL fire fighters. The content of the evaluations should be consistent with NFPA 1582 or equivalent to determine their medical ability to perform duties without presenting a significant risk to the safety and health of themselves or others.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), an institute within the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), is the federal agency responsible for conducting research and making recommendations for the prevention of work-related injury and illness. In 1998, Congress appropriated funds to NIOSH to conduct a fire fighter initiative that resulted in the NIOSH Fire Fighter Fatality Investigation and Prevention Program which examines line-of-duty-deaths or on duty deaths of fire fighters to assist fire departments, fire fighters, the fire service and others to prevent similar fire fighter deaths in the future. The agency does not enforce compliance with State or Federal occupational safety and health standards and does not determine fault or assign blame. Participation of fire departments and individuals in NIOSH investigations is voluntary. Under its program, NIOSH investigators interview persons with knowledge of the incident who agree to be interviewed and review available records to develop a description of the conditions and circumstances leading to the death(s). Interviewees are not asked to sign sworn statements and interviews are not recorded. The agency's reports do not name the victim, the fire department or those interviewed. The NIOSH report's summary of the conditions and circumstances surrounding the fatality is intended to provide context to the agency's recommendations and is not intended to be definitive for purposes of determining any claim or benefit.