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Fire Fighter Suffers a Heart Attack at Brush Fire and Dies 8 Days Later – Vermont

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

F2017-02 Date Released:  May 24, 2017

Executive Summary

On April 27, 2016, a 58-year-old male paid-on-call fire fighter (FF) responded to a brush fire call. He drove the tanker to the scene and assisted with suppression operations. After approximately 10 minutes on the scene, he collapsed. Fire fighters on the scene evaluated the FF, found that he was breathing, and initiated care. While he was being treated the FF stopped breathing and became pulseless. Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) was initiated, and shocks were delivered with an automated external defibrillator (AED). An ambulance arrived on scene and the crew took over CPR and initiated advanced life support. During care rendered by the paramedics and fire fighters, the FF regained a spontaneous pulse, but he remained unresponsive while being transferred to the area medical center. At the medical center blood testing revealed elevated troponin levels consistent with a myocardial infarction (heart attack). The FF was stabilized and transported to a larger medical center, where he received a stent to the left main coronary artery. However, magnetic resonance imaging on May 2, 2016, revealed anoxic brain damage due to lack of oxygen. On May 5, 2016, the breathing tube was removed and the FF died.

The death certificate listed the cause of death as myocardial infarction due to atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease. No autopsy was performed. NIOSH concludes that the emergency response and light to medium physical exertion of supporting operations at a fire scene may have triggered the FF’s heart attack.

Key Recommendations

  • Ensure that all fire fighters receive a preplacement and annual medical evaluation consistent with NFPA 1582, Standard on Comprehensive Occupational Medical Program for Fire Departments, to identify fire fighters at increased risk for heart disease or other conditions.
  • Ensure fire fighters are cleared for duty by a physician knowledgeable about the physical and psychological demands of fire fighting, the personal protective equipment used by fire fighters, and the various components of NFPA 1582.
  • Perform candidate and annual physical ability evaluations for all fire fighters involved in emergency operations.
  • Phase in a mandatory comprehensive wellness and fitness program for fire fighters.


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