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Firefighter Trainee Suffers Sudden Cardiac Death During Physical Fitness Exercise – California

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

F2018-17 Date Released: March 15, 2021
Revised April 2, 2021

Executive Summary

In 2017, a 33-year-old state inmate was accepted into the state’s Conservation Camp Program which allows inmates to request assignments within one of the state’s correctional institution fire departments. On April 21, 2018, the inmate became a trainee (trainee) of the fire program and was participating in an initial training hike. He had recently been assigned to serve the campfire station as a structural firefighter. The training exercise involved hiking in moderately steep terrain while wearing full wildland personal protective equipment (PPE), web gear, and a hose pack. As the trainee reached the top of the climb for a second  final lap, he knelt and said he needed to catch his breath. The crew told the trainee to drink some water while he rested and questioned him to see if he was alert and oriented. Less than two minutes later, the crew noticed the trainee wasn’t drinking water or moving and did not respond to his name when called. The crew quickly came to his aid and notified the captain that they needed additional support. The crew started treating the trainee for heat exhaustion and loaded him into a vehicle. As they drove down the hill, he became pulseless and non-breathing at which time the crew immediately started cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). The crew arrived at the fire station within two minutes and medical staff was waiting. The crew continued CPR as correction medical staff began advanced life support (ALS) efforts. Despite the efforts of fire crews, medical staff and paramedics, the trainee died. The cause of death was fatal cardiac arrhythmia due to cardiomyopathy

Key Recommendations

NIOSH investigators offer the following recommendations to prevent similar fatal events, and to address general health and safety issues among firefighters at this and other fire departments across the country.

  • Provide preplacement and annual medical evaluations consistent with National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1582, which include a baseline electrocardiogram (EKG) in all individuals prior to engagement in any strenuous physical activity to rule out any underlying cardiac anomalies.
  • Ensure all firefighters are cleared for duty by a health care provider knowledgeable about the physical and psychological demands of firefighting.
  • Implement a mandatory wellness and fitness program for fire department members consistent with NFPA 1583 and the IAFF/IAFC Wellness-Fitness Initiative.
  • Perform an annual physical performance (physical ability) evaluation for all firefighters.


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List of Revisions
Revision Date Revisions
March 15, 2021 (Original)
April 2, 2021 Reference: IAFF-IAFC [2018]. Wellness Fitness Initiative-Fire Service Joint Labor Management Task Force, Link updated to: