For firefighters, cardiac is the No. 1 killer

By Michael Stavola
Hutchinson News – June 12, 2017

Photo by Sandra J. Milburn

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Heart attacks and other cardiac-related deaths continue to be the No. 1 killer of firefighters, according to a report released this week by the National Fire Protection Association.

The report says 69 on-duty firefighters died in 2016, with 26 deaths being cardiac related – the lowest since the NFPA started reporting in 1977. The NFPA report says the cardiac-related deaths are “usually heart attacks.”

The only cardiac-related death in Kansas came when Jefferson County assistant fire chief Daniel Cool collapsed from a heart attack following a call. He died a few days later.

Kansas State Firefighters Association President Kevin Flory said there has been a state and national push for firefighter health, but no federal or state regulations require annual physical training.

That push for awareness could be the reason for the all-time low in deaths.

Each department decides whether or not to require annual physical training, he said, adding many departments cannot afford annual testing that can run as much as $1,500 and $2,000 per firefighter.

“It’s not cheap to do a full physical,” he said.

The Hutchinson Fire Department requires firefighters to meet training guidelines suggested by the U.S. Department of the Interior and the Kansas Forest Service.

To meet the guidelines, firefighters must undergo an annual physical test of either carrying 25 pounds for 2 miles in 30 minutes or 45 pounds for 3 miles in 45 minutes. Additionally, the department requires an annual check up with a physician for staff over the age of 40 and biannually for anyone under 40.

It was a one time cost for the weights, he said, and the human resources department at the City of Hutchinson said each check up costs around $525.

HFD Chief of Training Jesse Martin said the department started making the tests mandatory four or five years ago.

“It’s a good baseline test,” Martin said. “We are wearing heavy equipment all the time so it’s a good gauge to see where people are at physically.”

Martin said HFD is one of the only Kansas departments with all of its firefighters certified through the Department of Interior or KFS.

At the minimum, HFD applicants must have their EMT certification, he said. Then, department recruits go through a six-week program where they earn firefighter level one and two certifications.

At South Hutchinson Fire Department, a mostly volunteer department, there are no requirements at the time of hire, according to chief R.C. Watson, who is also a firefighter with HFD. Additionally, there is no annual physical training requirements.

But volunteers must get their CPR and firefighter levels one and two certifications within a year, Watson said. SHFD does the CPR certification in house and pays for the other accreditations through Hutchinson Community College Fire Science.

“If they can make it through (firefighter levels one and two) that is a … sign they can crawl into a burning building,” he said.

Steve Hirsch is a training officer for Sheridan County Fire District No. 1 and sits on the National Volunteer Fire Council. He said it would not be a good idea to mandate requirements for volunteers “when many volunteer departments struggle to recruit as it is.”

The NVFC launched a heart-healthy initiative in 2003 that is available for career- and volunteer-fire departments. More information about the program can be found on

“Every year, more than half of all firefighter deaths are attributed to heart attacks, which is the leading cause of on-duty firefighter fatalities,” it says on the website.

According to the NFPA report, the most firefighter deaths was 174 in 1978. The report says of the 69 deaths in 2016, 39 were volunteer firefighters 19 career firefighters. The others were federal land management agents, one state agent, one a member of a facility fire brigade and one was a prison inmate.

The entire report can be found by searching “Firefighter Fatalities in the United States” on

Cause of death for firefighters deaths in 2016

Of the 69 firefighter deaths:

42 percent were from overexertion, stress or medical (such as a heart attack)

25 percent from crashes

10 percent fell

6 percent struck by object

6 percent other

4 percent fatal assault

4 percent structural collapse

3 percent struck by vehicle

*Source: National Fire Protection Association

Posted by Gwen Dorr Romine, KSFFA Webmaster
KSFFA’s Fire News Blog Home Page

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