Background: Heart disease causes 45% of the deaths that occur among U.S. firefighters while they are on duty. We examined duty-specific risks of death from coronary heart disease among on-duty U.S. firefighters from 1994 to 2004.
Methods: We reviewed summaries provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency of the deaths of all on-duty firefighters between 1994 and 2004, except for deaths associated with the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Estimates of the proportions of time spent by firefighters each year performing various duties were obtained from a municipal fire department, from 17 large metropolitan fire departments, and from a national database. Odds ratios and 95% confidence intervals for death from coronary heart disease during specific duties were calculated from the ratios of the observed odds to the expected odds, with nonemergency duties as the reference category.
Results: Deaths from coronary heart disease were associated with suppressing a fire (32.1% of all such deaths), responding to an alarm (13.4%), returning from an alarm (17.4%), engaging in physical training (12.5%), responding to nonfire emergencies (9.4%), and performing nonemergency duties (15.4%). As compared with the odds of death from coronary heart disease during nonemergency duties, the odds were 12.1 to 136 times as high during fire suppression, 2.8 to 14.1 times as high during alarm response, 2.2 to 10.5 times as high during alarm return, and 2.9 to 6.6 times as high during physical training. These odds were based on three estimates of the time that firefighters spend on their duties.
Conclusions: Certain emergency firefighting duties were associated with a risk of death from coronary heart disease that was markedly higher than the risk associated with nonemergency duties. Fire suppression was associated with the highest risk, which was approximately 10 to 100 times as high as that for nonemergency duties.
Copyright 2007 Massachusetts Medical Society.