Firefighters Face Added Risk of Fatal Heart Attack

Firefighters are twice as likely to die from a heart attack in the line of duty than are policemen, and three times more likely than EMTs.

That's among the headlines run today because of a report in the New England Journal of Medicine documenting a dramatically higher risk for heart attack for fire fighters putting out fires. The above headline is from an excellent report run on NPR radio. You can listen to the webcast at

The story sparked comments from experts insisting that all fire fighters should have physicals, should be in better physical condition, should be covered by health insurance (the NPR report said that 1 out of 4 fire fighters lack health insurance). Judging from the indisputable risk firefighters encounter, these are all good ideas.

But if you've been following my blog or the Track Your Plaque program, you know that physicals alone are hopeless exercises for identifying hidden heart disease. Among the solutions: identify whether or not heart disease is present in the first place--do a CT heart scan.

In fact, several local fire companies in my area have done just that: insisting that all firefighters undergo a heart scan. When groups of people like firefighters arrange for heart scans, they gain the advantage of doing so en masse, thereby allowing many scan centers to offer a dramatically reduced price to the city, town, or village that is paying for them. I've even seen many firefighters scanned at no cost.

It would also help to have health insurance, be physically fit, and have a stress test (an exception to my view that stress tests are also useless to screen asymptomatic people for heart disease). But a CT heart scan would settle the question quickly, easily, undeniably, and inexpensively.

Comments (1) -

  • Rich

    11/15/2007 7:31:00 PM |

    Thanks for this article.

    I can't accept NPR's statement that 25% of firefighters have no health insurance. I think that all permanent public employees everwhere in the US have health insurance. A firefighter's union would certainly secure this benefit.