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Major Suffers Sudden Cardiac Death After Annual Physical Ability Test – Kentucky


FF ShieldDeath in the Line of Duty…A summary of a NIOSH fire fighter fatality investigation

F2014-21 Date Released: April 7, 2015

Executive Summary

On October 30, 2014, a 60-year-old male career Major underwent his fire department’s annual medical evaluation and physical ability test (PAT). The PAT consisted of 10 timed maneuvers while wearing full turnout gear and self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA). The Major completed all 10 maneuvers over 25 minutes without incident or complaint. On his way home, the Major stopped at an abandoned gas station and called 911 on his cell phone at 1058 hours. After talking with the 911 operator for a few seconds, the Major hung up. The 911 operator called back, but the Major stated he did not need assistance. About 10 minutes later the Major called a crew member to discuss a project. During that conversation the crew member told the Major that he did not sound well; the Major responded that he had just completed his annual medical/physical evaluation and there was no problem.

When the Major did not return home that evening (about 10 hours later), his family traced his cell phone and located him at the gas station. Fire department and ambulance paramedics responded and found him deceased for quite some time (cold body and rigor mortis). He was declared dead at the scene. The death certificate and the autopsy, completed by the county medical examiner, listed “hypertensive and atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease” as the cause of death with “obesity” as a contributing factor. The NIOSH investigators concluded that the Major’s sudden cardiac death was probably due to a primary arrhythmia or a heart attack, precipitated by the physical stress of the physical ability test.

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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.

For further information, visit the program Web site at or call toll free 1-800-CDC-INFO (1-800-232-4636).