Fire Fighter Dies From Aortic Dissection During Shift – Massachusetts
Death in the Line of Duty…A summary of a NIOSH fire fighter fatality investigation
F2013-24 Date Released: June 2014
On July 8, 2013, a 37-year-old male career fire fighter (“FF”) started his 10-hour work shift at Station 5. At 1230 hours, Engine 5 responded to a medical call where the FF assisted with loading the patient into the ambulance. At 1511 hours, Engine 5 was dispatched to another medical call. As the crew gathered, the FF failed to respond to the call. The crew searched the station and found the FF inside a locked bathroom. He was unresponsive, with no pulse or respirations. Dispatch was notified as cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) was begun, oxygen was administered via bag-valve-mask, and an automated external defibrillator (AED) delivered one shock. The ambulance arrived at 1521 hours and provided advanced life support. The FF was transported to the hospital’s emergency department (ED) where he was pronounced dead at 1554 hours.
The death certificate and autopsy report were completed by the state medical examiner’s office and listed “aortic dissection due to hypertensive cardiovascular disease” as the cause of death. It is unclear whether the exertion during the previous medical call (1230 hours) triggered the aortic dissection.
The following recommendations would not have prevented the FF’s death. However, NIOSH investigators offer these recommendations to address general safety and health issues and to prevent future cases of sudden cardiac death.
- Provide preplacement and annual medical evaluations to all fire fighters in accordance with NFPA 1582, Standard on Comprehensive Occupational Medical Program for Fire Departments.
- Phase in a mandatory comprehensive wellness and fitness program for fire fighters.
- Perform an annual physical performance (physical ability) evaluation for all members.
- Provide fire fighters with medical clearance to wear a self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) as part of the fire department’s medical evaluation program.
- Conduct annual respirator fit testing.
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.