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Firefighters and on-duty deaths from coronary heart disease: a case control study

Environmental Health
Springer (Biomed Central Ltd.)
Publication Date
DOI: 10.1186/1476-069x-2-14
  • Research
  • Medicine


Background Coronary heart disease (CHD) is responsible for 45% of on-duty deaths among United States firefighters. We sought to identify occupational and personal risk factors associated with on-duty CHD death. Methods We performed a case-control study, selecting 52 male firefighters whose CHD deaths were investigated by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. We selected two control populations: 51 male firefighters who died of on-duty trauma; and 310 male firefighters examined in 1996/1997, whose vital status and continued professional activity were re-documented in 1998. Results The circadian pattern of CHD deaths was associated with emergency response calls: 77% of CHD deaths and 61% of emergency dispatches occurred between noon and midnight. Compared to non-emergency duties, fire suppression (OR = 64.1, 95% CI 7.4–556); training (OR = 7.6, 95% CI 1.8–31.3) and alarm response (OR = 5.6, 95% CI 1.1–28.8) carried significantly higher relative risks of CHD death. Compared to the active firefighters, the CHD victims had a significantly higher prevalence of cardiovascular risk factors in multivariate regression models: age ≥ 45 years (OR 6.5, 95% CI 2.6–15.9), current smoking (OR 7.0, 95% CI 2.8–17.4), hypertension (OR 4.7, 95% CI 2.0–11.1), and a prior diagnosis of arterial-occlusive disease (OR 15.6, 95% CI 3.5–68.6). Conclusions Our findings strongly support that most on-duty CHD fatalities are work-precipitated and occur in firefighters with underlying CHD. Improved fitness promotion, medical screening and medical management could prevent many of these premature deaths.

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