Firefighters Face Increased Risk of Cardiovascular Disease

By: Daniel Armbruster Email
By: Daniel Armbruster Email

When firefighters arrived on scene to the downtown fire on February 16, their first objective was to make sure that everyone made it out safely. The last thought on their minds were the possibility of breathing in toxic fumes or experiencing a heart attack.

You don't know what you're going to be breathing in so it's best if you wear you SCVA,” said Lt. Nathanael Aniello, Bryan Fire Department.

81 American firefighters died in the line of duty last year.

“Heart attacks and strokes are roughly the cause of almost 60% of those,” said Dr. Steven Martin, a Clinical Assistant Professor of clinical and applied exercise physiology at the Applied Exercise Science Laboratory and the Huffines Institute for Sports Medicine at Texas A&M University.

Dr. Martin studies the effects of cardiovascular disease on the body and how it can impact first responders.

"They're putting on 50 pounds of gear going into a burning building and you have environmental factors that pose an increased risk on their cardiovascular system,” said Dr. Martin.

Firefighters do wear special masks to protect them from breathing harmful toxins such as Asbestos and Cyanide, but their masks will not protect them from a stressful lifestyle.

"All of a sudden in a split second they go from zero to 100 mph when the alarm goes off that know we have a fight or flight response. Their heart rates and blood pressure are elevated so that right there put's people at an increased risk,” said Dr. Martin.

Another line of defense is an annual physical. Both Bryan and College Station require firefighters to get one to stay with the department. Much of that is done at the Huffines Institute for Sports Medicine at Texas A&M.

“Our job at the university in the Fit Life Program is bringing these firefighters in annually and identifying individuals that might be more at risk,” said Dr. Martin, "50% percent of the fatalities are usually during the act of an emergency procedure whether it be fire suppression or something else.”

The program through Texas A&M is funded through grants and City of Bryan contracts, which total $80,000, together.

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