FEMA study shows firefighters at high risk for heart disease

On March 14 Wildfire Today reported on a study by the University of Kansas that found firefighters are more likely to have prematurely narrowed arteries, which increases their risk for strokes and heart attacks. The data shows that 22 percent of a group of 77 firefighters studied by researchers at the University of Kansas averaged 39 years old but had the blood vessels of 52-year-olds because of significant plaque buildup in their carotid arteries.

Now a FEMA-sponsored study on 300 firefighters in Georgia has more information that will be of concern to firefighters.

H. Robert Superko, MD, principal investigator in the landmark FEMA-sponsored study of firefighters aged 40 and over conducted at Saint Joseph’s Hospital in Atlanta, released preliminary findings in the world’s first study of first responders at risk of suffering sudden death or other significant cardiac events. Firefighters are known to have a three hundred percent increased risk for cardiac disease as compared to other segments of the population.

“Preliminary findings show that one third of firefighters had heart disease that is unrelated to traditional risk factors, such as high cholesterol,” says Dr. Superko. “Those results are astounding and point at job duties and environment as the primary determinants for early death in our country’s first responders.”

Dr. Superko, recognized as a leading expert on lipids, cholesterol and advanced metabolic markets and their contribution to heart disease, and his team performed a comprehensive, scientific battery of sophisticated blood and imaging tests on three hundred firefighters in Gwinnett County, Georgia. Gwinnett County first responders were identified for the study following an emotional report by Fire Chief Steve Rolader, following the sudden death of one of his firefighters from cardiac arrest while fighting a house fire.

“This wasn’t the first firefighter in my department to die but I wanted to do something to make it among the last,” says Chief Rolader. “This man was 53 years old, in great physical shape and he had no known symptoms of heart disease. We also had lost several newly-retired firefighters to sudden cardiac death. There had to be a way to stop it.”