Fire stations are often home to life-saving defibrillators to provide a place of common knowledge for them for use by the public in emergencies, however a new study shows that they may will be especially perfectly placed for a group who are particular prone to suffer from heart disease.
According to the BBC, researchers have found that working in extreme heats increases the risk of suffering a heart attack. The results of the study, published by the University of Edinburgh, may go to explain why heart disease is the leading cause of death for on-duty firefighters.
Funded by the British Heart Foundation, the study used 19 randomly selected participants from the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service who were non-smoking and healthy in other respects to undertake tasks while wearing a heart monitor.
When the study was launched in 2012, Dr Nick Mills, the consultant cardiologist leading the research at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, explained the risks involved with firefighters to the Scotsman. “A cigarette smoker might have a two-fold risk of having a heart attack – but there’s a 30-fold increased risk of having a heart attack during fire suppression activity,” he said.
One of the tasks was a mock rescue, which exposed the firefighters to extreme high temperatures. While you might expect the raise in heart rate and adrenaline to be a contributing factor, the study actually found the heat was causing more effects on the body in terms of heart health.
The study found that their core body temperature remained much higher for three to four hours after the exercise. The firefighters blood became ‘stickier’, making them 66 per cent more likely to form clots which could cause issues for the cardiovascular system.
The research team believe that the ‘stickiness’ may be caused by a combination of loss of fluid from the body and an inflammatory response, both in reaction to the high temperatures.
Alongside this, the study found that exposure to fire causes small injuries to muscles in the heart.
However, Dr Mills says of the results of the study that it’s not all doom and gloom for our firefighting heroes – knowing the cause of the problem, firefighters can take simple steps to fight the effects. These include staying hydrated and not spending extended periods of times exposed to fire.
Dave Green, a national officer with the Fire Brigades Union, says that this is easier said than done however, especially with cuts to funding. “Unfortunately.. cuts to the fire and rescue service mean that finding fresh crews to relieve firefighters who have already worked too long in heat isn’t always possible,” he said.
Firefighters have fitness tests every year and full medicals every three, however, some say this does not necessarily give the full picture of someone’s heart health. The National Fire Chiefs Council said it was grateful for the research and hopes it will raise awareness amongst firefighters that they are vulnerable. For themselves, they will consider the findings of the study and look to minimise the risk to the firefighters going forward.