Objective: The etiology of sarcoidosis is unknown, but epidemiology suggests that environmental agents are a factor. Because firefighters are exposed to numerous toxins, we questioned whether sarcoidosis was increased in this cohort.
Setting: The New York City Fire Department (FDNY), employing > 11,000 firefighters and nearly 3,000 emergency medical services (EMS) health-care workers (HCWs).
Design: In 1985, FDNY initiated a surveillance program to determine the incidence, prevalence, and severity of biopsy-proven sarcoidosis in firefighters. In 1995, EMS HCWs were added as control subjects.
Results: Between 1985 and 1998, 4 prior cases and 21 new cases of sarcoidosis were found in FDNY firefighters. Annual incidence proportions ranged from 0 to 43.6/100,000, and averaged 12.9/100,000. On July 1, 1998, the point prevalence was 222/100,000. For EMS HCWs, annual incidence proportions were zero. Radiographic stage 0 or stage 1 sarcoidosis was found in 19 firefighters (76%), and stage 3 was found in 1 firefighter (4%). Pulmonary function (FVC, FEV(1), and diffusing capacity for carbon monoxide) was normal in 17 firefighters (68%), and reduced to </= 65% predicted in 2 firefighters (8%). Maximum oxygen consumption (MVO(2)) was normal in 10 of 17 firefighters (59%), and reduced to 65% predicted in 3 firefighters (12%). Five of seven firefighters (71%) with abnormal MVO(2) had gas exchange abnormalities, and none had O(2) desaturation. All returned to fire fighting.
Conclusions: Annual incidence proportions and point prevalence were increased in FDNY firefighters as compared to EMS HCWs and historical controls. Radiographs and physiologic measurements demonstrated only minimal impairment.