Cardiac-related events still leading cause of on-duty firefighter fatalities

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Central Indiana has mourned the loss of two firefighters late this year, both losing their lives from what officials believe were due to cardiac-related issues.

The first happened in November, when Greenfield Fire Department Lieutenant Scott Compton was found the morning after battling a large fire at Mueller Auto Body.

Then, Wednesday morning, Hamilton Township, located in Delaware County, lost volunteer firefighter Jeffrey Allan Blackmer. He was found by another firefighter inside the fire station.

Both deaths are considered line of duty deaths because both men died just hours after battling a fire.

“When it comes to cardiac anomalies, cancer deaths have sort of overshadowed that in the last couple of years," said Indianapolis Fire Department Battalion Chief, Howard Stahl, who said the news of Blackmer's death, and all firefighter deaths, spreads quickly to fire stations across the state. "There’s still a high risk cardiac anomalies among firefighters.”

Reports from two national firefighter agencies said cardiac-related issues are the leading cause of death for American firefighters.

According to research by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), heart disease is recognized as a serious health issue for firefighters and has been for years, adding that sudden cardiac death has consistently accounted for the largest share of on-duty firefighter deaths since the NFPA began studying the issue in 1997.

The NFPA reported that 26 firefighters died in 2016 due to cardiac arrest.

One positive note is numbers have declined in recent years. The first 10 years, an average of 60 firefighters were dying from cardiac-issues. It’s dropped to 33 firefighters annually over the last decade.

More on the NFPA report can be found here.

“With the stress of the job, you go from 0 to 60 in nothing flat," said Stahl about the job of a firefighter. "We’ve done studies where people in our department have actually worn vests throughout a 24-hour shift. They say we don’t really sleep, we just kind of rest fitfully at the station. You may get four or five nights of sleep, and when the lights come on and the bells drop, you go up to 100, 120 on your heart rate, and it stays that way for a long time. It doesn’t really come back down.”

The U.S. Fire Administration reported cardiac deaths make up nearly a quarter of all deaths in the U.S., but 47 percent of on-duty firefighter deaths are cardiac-related.

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