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Occupational Medicine (Oxford Journals). Vol. 64, Iss. 6, September 2014

Duty-related risk of sudden cardiac death among young US firefighters


Background Little is known regarding duty-related risks for sudden cardiac death (SCD) among young firefighters.

Aims To investigate duty-related SCD among US firefighters aged 45 or younger.

Methods We collected data on duty-related SCD from the US Fire Administration (USFA) and the US National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). Two physicians independently reviewed each record. The proportions of time spent by firefighters performing specific duties were estimated from a municipal department, 17 large metropolitan departments and a national database. We estimated the duty-specific relative risks (RRs) and 95% confidence intervals (95% CI) of SCD relative to non-emergency duties based on the observed deaths and the expected average proportions of time per duty.

Results The USFA recorded 205 age-eligible on-duty SCDs between 1996 and 2012; 86 (42%) of these deaths and one additional SCD were investigated by NIOSH (total n = 206). NIOSH was more likely (P < 0.001) to report on SCD associated with physical training (69% of cases were investigated) and fire suppression (57%). Compared with non-emergency duties, the risk of SCD was increased for fire suppression (RR 22.1, 95% CI 14.8–32.9), alarm response (RR 2.6, 95% CI 1.5–4.6), alarm return (RR 4.1, 95% CI 2.7–6.2) and physical training (RR 4.8, 95% CI 3.2–7.2). RRs for SCD were higher among firefighters with a pre-existing history of a cardiac condition. All 16 SCDs associated with alarm response occurred among volunteer firefighters.

Conclusions The performance of strenuous emergency duties is strongly associated with an increased risk of SCD among young firefighters, particularly among those with a history of cardiovascular disease.


firefighters, Longitudinal study, occupational disease, occupational exposure, sudden cardiac death.

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