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New study shows fire fighters face increased heart attack risk

A recent study revealed that fire fighters exposed to extreme heat and physical exertion demonstrated clinically recognised changes in the form of…

A recent study supported by the British Heart Foundation, conducted by Mills, Hunter and others revealed that fire fighters exposed to extreme heat and physical exertion demonstrated clinically recognised changes in the form of platelets, impaired vascular function and an increase thrombus formations which explains why fire fighters are at greater risk of a mocardial infarction (heart attack) during or shortly after fire suppression activities.

This is the first study which revealed increased thrombus formation and in some instances minor myocardial injury to include ischaemia in addition to a 31% increase in platelet count – all are strong markers for myocardial infarction (MI). The authors were unable to conclude whether this was due to core body temperature rises or high temperatures causing direct myocardial injury.

This study evidences for the first time the physiological changes which cause an elevated risk of MI, yet the results harvested as they were from controlled training conditions rather from ‘real life’ fire suppression are likely to under represent the risk to fire fighters exposed to real life emergency fires - where more pronounced exposure and increased physiological stress is likely.

However, this study will heighten tension for Fire and Rescue Services given their knowledge of risk to health, the duty of care owed by them to their employees and an inability to fetter the requirements and demands imposed by real time fire suppression activities. Any solution appears difficult to foresee – whilst the focus on fire prevention has bought a welcome reduction over the decades in the time spent on real life fire suppression, the inherent risks faced by fire fighters cannot be avoided entirely.