The fire service is facing an epidemic: more than half of all firefighter line of duty deaths are due to heart attack or stroke (usfa.fema.gov). Many of us have heard this statistic before, yet most of us believe: “It won’t happen at my department, and definitely not to me.”
Firefighters are dying. I have witnessed this firsthand: a 40 year-old firefighter at my department went into cardiac arrest during a strenuous training evolution. This firefighter was found to have a 100% blockage in his main coronary artery.
- Hypertension increases our risk 12 times
- High cholesterol increases our risk 4.4 times
- Obesity increases our risk 2.2 times
- Smoking increases our risk 8.6 times
- Diabetes increases our risk 10.2 times
Research has shown that our risk of developing heart disease is based on two primary factors: our lifestyle choices and our family history. The former we can control, the latter we cannot.
Earlier this year, my father passed away due to complications from a recent coronary artery bypass surgery. A self-proclaimed “carboholic,” my father had developed coronary heart disease, hypertension, high cholesterol, obesity, aortic stenosis, and type 2 diabetes. Needless to say, he did not take care of himself the way I would have liked him to. His life ended prematurely, leaving his family and friends in a state of grief. Many years prior, his father also died from a similar battle against coronary heart disease.
The following serve as my motivation for putting my fitness first:
- My family health history makes me work harder to reduce my inherited risk factors. I will not undergo the same fate of my father and grandfather.
- I owe it to my wife and daughters to be in the best physical shape possible. They expect me to come home to them at the end of each shift.
- I made a pledge to my citizens that I will do my job to the best of my abilities. This includes being physically fit to rescue them in their time of need.
- I am a fire officer. I must live out a positive example of fitness for my crew.
- I want to reduce my risk of injury. Being fit for duty plays a huge role in this.
- I want to enjoy a quality retirement after I put in a full career.
- I want to reduce the amount firefighter LODDs which are due to heart attack and stroke.
Unfortunately, you may be in the same situation as me: dealt a poor hand in the game of poker genetics. Does this mean we should simply ‘fold’ and let nature take its course? Of course not. Conversely, it may mean that we have to work harder to watch what we eat, exercise regularly, and take better care of ourselves.
We have a job to do, and we will choose to do it with excellence. We will put our fitness first because this is what we signed up to do when we took the firefighter oath.
We made the decision to put our citizens, our fellow firefighters, and our families before ourselves.