Firefighter Suffers Fatal Heart Attack at Fire Station After Returning from a Fire Alarm – New York
Death in the Line of Duty…A summary of a NIOSH fire fighter fatality investigation
F2014-05 Date Released: August 2014
On April 5, 2013, at 0800 hours, a 57-year-old male career firefighter (FF) began his 24-hour shift. As the Acting Lieutenant for his company, the FF and his crew responded to two emergency medical calls during the day and early evening. The FF spent much of the evening in the officer’s bunk room but had ice cream with a crew member before retiring for the evening at approximately 2100 hours. At 0021 hours, on April 6, the FF and his crew responded to an automatic fire alarm at a local college fraternity house. While investigating the cause of the automatic alarm activation, the FF climbed five flights of stairs in full personal protective equipment (PPE), including his self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA). When the crew returned to the station at approximately 0045 hours, the FF complained of indigestion. The FF was last seen alive at approximately 0100 hours when he retired to his bunk room. At 0656 hours the crew was dispatched to a medical alarm, but the FF did not respond. When the crew returned to the fire house at 0715 hours, the FF was found unresponsive in his bunk room. He had no pulse, no respirations, was cool to the touch, and had signs of lividity and rigor. Per emergency medical service protocol, the FF was pronounced dead on scene. The death certificate, completed by the County Coroner, listed the cause of death as “cardiac arrhythmia, due to myocardial infarction, as a consequence of severe arteriosclerotic heart disease.” The autopsy revealed severe coronary atherosclerosis with evidence of acute plaque rupture with hemorrhage; these findings are consistent with an acute heart attack.
NIOSH offers the following recommendations to reduce the risk of heart attacks and sudden cardiac arrest among fire fighters at this and other fire departments across the country.
- Perform symptom-limiting exercise stress tests on firefighters at increased risk for CHD and sudden cardiac events.
- Perform an annual physical performance (physical ability) evaluation.
- Phase in a mandatory comprehensive wellness and fitness program for fire fighters.
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.