Health & Safety

June 14, 2013

Firefighters focus on heart health

“What are you usually doing at 2 a.m.?” A seemingly simple question with an obvious answer was asked by Chief Master Sgt. Charles Funkhouser, 56th Civil Engineer Squadron Fire Emergency Services fire chief. Most would say sleeping.

There is, however, a group of people who aren’t afforded the luxury of sleeping through every night. Firefighters are expected to respond to calls at all hours of the day or night every day. It’s these circumstances that put a strain, both mentally and physically, on those who are so heavily relied upon.

The Luke Air Force Base Fire Department hosted a seminar Thursday and today at the base theater to help bring the importance of heart health to members of the local firefighting team. Presenters provided critical information on heart health and nutrition.

Funkhouser and Marty Yates, deputy fire chief, spoke out about the lasting complications firefighters suffer as a consequence of their demanding occupation. Chief among health complications, and arguably the most concerning, is cardiovascular health.

More than half of firefighter line-of-duty deaths are cardiac related, according to a study from the American Journal of Health Promotion on health concerns of the U.S. Fire Service.

The heart beats most slowly during sleep. On-call firefighters who may be sleeping are often abruptly awakened, forcing the heart from a resting rate to a more adrenaline induced rate. This scenario has the potential to put a great deal of strain on a firefighter’s heart and is being attributed to the rising number of cardiovascular health issues in the firefighting community.

Another factor adversely affecting firefighters’ health is poor nutrition. Yates said firefighters commonly share the same nutritional patterns as a result of having to be with each other a majority of the time, and those same nutrition patterns often tend to be less than desirable. Yates explained that if the issue of poor nutrition among firefighters is going to be resolved, it needs to be a result of conscious decisions made by the firefighters as a whole. Firefighters will have to require the assistance of each other to successfully incorporate these dietary alterations.

The final major issue covered by the chief and deputy chief was the concept of internal fitness. Funkhouser expressed concern that firefighters are developing their beach body muscle groups, or the aesthetically appealing muscles, instead of focusing on cardiovascular exercises. When firefighters focus on this area of fitness, they aren’t doing much to promote heart-healthy living, something that has been proven to be needed by all firefighters. Funkhouser said firefighters need to be concerned more with fitness internally, and need to be sure that overall health is not neglected at the expense of having a certain look.

Firefighters provide an essential service to the society, and they are relied upon daily to respond to emergencies that cover the entire spectrum. The issue of poor cardiovascular health can follow a firefighter into their retirement, and is something that will certainly continue to be watched closely until the high number of firefighter deaths attributed to cardiac problems is reduced.




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