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Fire Fighter Suffers Cardiac Arrest While Driving Home From Fire Station After Responding to Motor Vehicle Accident – Illinois

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

F2017-12 Date Released:  July 1, 2017

Executive Summary

On February 7, 2017, a 46-year-old male volunteer FF (fire fighter) responded to a motor vehicle accident as the driver of the engine. Upon returning to the fire station after the call, the FF reported to his Chief that he was not feeling well and left the station before other members. Approximately 4 minutes later, as he was driving home in his privately owned vehicle, he lost consciousness and his vehicle struck other vehicles. Members of the FF’s department, including paramedic-level EMS (emergency medical services) personnel, responded and initiated CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation). An ambulance was dispatched at 0049 hours and arrived on scene at 0105 hours. The FF received advanced cardiac life support care on scene and en route to the emergency department and regained a pulse several times. Hospital emergency department personnel continued resuscitation efforts until 0152 hours, when the FF was pronounced dead.

The autopsy report listed the immediate cause of death as atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease and listed diabetes mellitus, hypertensive cardiomegaly, and obesity as significant conditions contributing to his death. The report documented atherosclerosis with calcification and 95% stenosis (narrowing) of the left anterior descending and right coronary arteries. No coronary artery thrombi were found. NIOSH investigators conclude that the physical stress of the emergency response may have triggered the sudden cardiac event.

The motor vehicle accident was the first emergency the FF had responded to after being off duty for 3 months to recover from an injury to his leg. At the time of his death, he was being treated for type 2 diabetes, hypertension, high triglycerides, and obstructive sleep apnea. Approximately 7 months prior to his death, he was treated for a cholesterol embolism in his foot.

Key Recommendations

  • Ensure that all fire fighters receive an annual medical evaluation consistent with National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1582, Standard on Comprehensive Occupational Medical Program for Fire Departments
  • Ensure fire fighters are cleared for duty by a physician knowledgeable about the physical demands of fire fighting, the personal protective equipment used by fire fighters, and the various components of NFPA 1582
  • Phase in a mandatory comprehensive wellness and fitness program for fire fighters
  • Perform an annual physical performance (physical ability) evaluation.


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