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47-Year-Old Captain Suffers Fatal Heart Attack at Fire Station—California

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

F2022-08 Date Released: February, 2024

Executive Summary

On July 14, 2022, a 47-year-old Captain (CAPT) suffered a fatal heart attack while sleeping at the fire station on the last day of a 72-hour shift. Earlier that day at 0717 hours, the fire station crew was dispatched to a medical aid call. When the CAPT did not show up at the engine for the call, the engineer knocked on his door. When the CAPT did not answer, the engineer opened his bedroom door and found the CAPT in his bed showing obvious signs of death. No medical interventions were initiated.

The medical examiner’s report determined the CAPT had atherosclerotic heart disease (ASCVD). There was severe coronary atherosclerosis with near total occlusion of the left anterior descending artery. Other significant conditions included mild aortic atherosclerosis and mild cerebral atherosclerosis. The medical examiner listed cause of death as ASCVD.

Key Recommendations

NIOSH investigators offer the following recommendations to reduce the risk of heart attacks and sudden cardiac arrest among firefighters at this and other fire departments across the country.

  • Key Recommendation #1: Implement comprehensive 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 any strenuous physical activity to rule out any underlying cardiac abnormalities [NFPA 2022].
  • Key Recommendation #2: 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].
  • Key Recommendation #3: Employers and employees should be aware of the early warning symptoms of heart attack that could result in SCD.

Read the full report