Fire/emergency medical services

Fire chiefs to first responders: Don’t ignore heart attack warning signs

chest pain
Photo: andriano_cz/iStockphoto

Chantilly, VA — Fire and emergency medical service workers are being urged not to ignore or downplay the warning signs of a heart attack – a leading cause of firefighter fatalities – as part of a new awareness campaign launched by the International Association of Fire Chiefs.

About 41% of deaths among firefighters in 2018 were attributed to sudden cardiac arrest, according to a Feb. 11 press release from IAFC, citing data from the National Fire Protection Association. In line with this data, the U.S. Fire Administration’s most recent annual report notes that 33 of the 82 (40.2%) on-duty firefighter fatalities in 2018 resulted from heart attacks. In 2017, 50 of the 87 (57.5%) on-duty fatalities were caused by heart attacks.

The campaign, “If You Don’t Feel Well, Don’t Make It Your Farewell,” includes a video and a cardiac awareness toolkit designed to “assist fire service leaders in helping educate their departments and begin to change the culture of denial in the profession.” A sample policy, strategy development tools, research papers, and training and media tools also are available.


“Many who have experienced but survived a cardiac incident have reported not feeling right, not feeling well or that something is wrong,” IAFC President and Board Chair Gary Ludwig, and fire chief of the Champaign (IL) Fire Department, said in the release. “The best way to change the culture of ignoring warning signs that are not always chest tightness and shortness of breath is through education and awareness.

“If you’re a first responder and your body is signaling to you a feeling that you have never experienced before with extreme fatigue and other symptoms, you need to act and those around you need to act. If a firefighter tells you, ‘Something is wrong’ or ‘I don’t feel right’ or any similar statement, do not tell them to go home or lay down in the bunk hall. Their body is sending them a signal that something could be seriously wrong.”

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