Cincinnati, OH: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, FACE F2013-10, 2013 Aug; :1-13
On March 3, 2013, a 44-year-old Fire Chief experienced coughing, shortness of breath, and difficulty breathing while functioning as incident commander at a brush fire. The Chief drove himself to an on-scene ambulance and requested assistance. On-scene emergency medical service (EMS) personnel performed an initial assessment, initiated care, and began transport. En route to the emergency department (ED), the Chief suffered cardiac and respiratory arrest. Despite cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) in the ambulance for about 60 minutes, the Chief died. The death certificate and autopsy report, both completed by the County Medical Examiner's office, listed the cause of death as "atherosclerotic and hypertensive cardiovascular disease." The autopsy revealed a massively enlarged heart with severe coronary atherosclerosis. Given the presentation of his illness and his underlying heart disease discovered at autopsy, the Chief's respiratory distress was probably due to acute exacerbation of undiagnosed heart failure, precipitated by any of the following: a hypertensive crisis, ischemia, a heart attack, or a primary arrhythmia. NIOSH offers the following recommendations to reduce the risk of heart attacks and sudden cardiac arrest among fire fighters at this and other fire departments across the country. 1. Ensure that all fire fighters receive an annual medical evaluation consistent with NFPA 1582, Standard on Comprehensive Occupational Medical Program for Fire Departments. 2. Ensure fire fighters are cleared for duty by a physician knowledgeable about the physical demands of firefighting, the personal protective equipment used by fire fighters, and the various components of NFPA 1582. 3. Phase in a mandatory comprehensive wellness and fitness program for fire fighters.