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Fire Boat Captain Suffers Sudden Cardiac Death After Winterizing Fire Boat – Michigan


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

F2016-03 Date Released: August 17, 2016

Executive Summary

On November 20, 2015, a 65-year old seasonal career fire boat captain (the “Captain”) began his 24-hour shift. He piloted the fire department’s fire boat from its’ berth at Engine 16 to its’ slip at the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) station. For about 2½ hours, the Captain and a crewmember winterized the boat. He then gave a tour of the boat to the Executive Fire Commissioner and the Deputy Fire Commissioner. After returning to Engine 16, the Captain took a nap. About 4 hours later, crewmembers found the Captain unresponsive in his bunk. They notified Dispatch and began cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). They placed an automated external defibrillator. It advised no shocks. After arriving by ambulance, paramedics placed their automated external defibrillator on the Captain. Again, no shock was advised. Paramedics inserted an oropharyngeal airway and administered oxygen via bag-valve-mask. They transported the Captain to the hospital’s emergency department (ED). Hospital staff administered advanced life support. Measures included cardiac monitoring, intubation, intravenous line placement, and cardiac resuscitation medication administration. CPR continued for 9 minutes with no positive change in the Captain’s clinical status. The attending physician pronounced the Captain dead.

The Assistant Medical Examiner completed he death certificate. It listed “arteriosclerotic cardiovascular disease” as the cause of death. No autopsy was performed. The Captain’s coronary heart disease (CHD) was undiagnosed prior to this incident.

Key Recommendations

  • Provide preplacement and annual medical evaluations to all fire fighters in accordance with NFPA 1582, Standard on Comprehensive Occupational Medical Program for Fire Departments, to identify fire fighters at increased risk for CHD
  • Perform symptom-limiting exercise stress tests (ESTs) on fire fighters at increased risk for CHD
  • Ensure that fire fighters are cleared for return to duty by a physician knowledgeable about the physical demands of fire fighting, the personal protective equipment used by fire fighters, and the components of NFPA 1582

The following recommendations address general safety and health issues and would not have prevented the Captain’s death:

  • Perform an annual physical ability evaluation
  • Phase in a mandatory comprehensive wellness and fitness program for fire fighters
  • Perform an autopsy on all on-duty fire fighter fatalities.


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