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57-Year-Old Engineer Suffers Fatal Heart Attack After Fighting a Multi-Vehicle Fire in a Commercial Parking Garage – California

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

F2021-16 Date Released: August, 2023

Executive Summary

On June 8, 2021, a 57-year-old Engineer suffered a fatal heart attack several hours after fighting an early morning vehicle fire. Fire dispatch was notified at approximately 0615 hours of a vehicle fire in the parking garage of a large commercial airport. An alarm assignment was dispatched that included an engine (E1) and a truck (T1). The Engineer responded on T1 as a firefighter. At approximately 0628 hours, E1 advised dispatch of heavy smoke coming from the fourth floor of the multi-level parking garage and requested a chief (B5) and an additional engine (E4). E1, E4, T1, and B5 were able to control the multi-vehicle fire at approximately 0655 hours. The crews remained on scene until approximately 0930 hours conducting extinguishment of the vehicles and picking up the hose lines.

After completing their assignment, T1 returned to quarters at approximately 0930. The Engineer was off duty and went home after working a 48-hour shift. Then at approximately 2305 hours that same day, emergency personnel were dispatched to the Engineer’s home for a medical emergency. Upon arrival, fire and medic crews found the Engineer pulseless and not breathing. Crews performed lifesaving procedures for about 20 minutes without success and ultimately pronounced the Engineer deceased at home at approximately 2330 hours. The medical examiner’s report listed the cause of death as fatal cardiac dysrhythmia due to hypertensive and atherosclerotic coronary artery disease.

Key Recommendations

  • Implement comprehensive pre-placement and annual medical evaluations consistent with NFPA 1582 Standard on Comprehensive Occupational Medical Program for Fire Departments, which should include a baseline EKG in all individuals prior to engagement in strenuous physical activity to rule out underlying cardiac abnormalities [NFPA 2022].
  • Implement a pre-placement and annual cardiac exercise stress test to determine the capacity for physical exertion and decrease the risk for sudden cardiac death.
  • Implement an annual fitness evaluation consistent with NFPA 1582 Standard on Comprehensive Occupational Medical Program for Fire Departments to ensure personnel are physically fit to perform job expectations at emergencies [NFPA 2022].

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