New York Firefighter's Heart and Lung
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Checking Our Most Important Piece of Equipment on the Fire Ground




Signal 5-5-5-5 has been transmitted standby for the following department message.  When we hear those words come over the voice alarm, no matter where you work or what you are doing, our worlds stop.  In a firehouse, filled with chatter, machines grinding, rigs running, everything seems to stop.  Just for one moment you could hear a pin drop on the apparatus floor or in the kitchen with 5 firefighters preparing the meal, time stands still, our worlds come to a screeching halt.  Is it because we know that one of our own has just fallen and that we consider, for a moment, the life changing effect this line of duty death will have, not only on the firefighter and the company he or she works in, but the extended fall out of how this will effect his fatherless children, widowed wife, his mother, father, sisters, brothers, extended families and yes the communities effected, the children’s school, church, neighbors, cousins, firehouse and the entire department.  The list goes on and on. Why we must ask?  How can we effect change in this area of our job? What can we do differently to reduce this fall out for future generations of firefighters?  What can we do as individual firefighters?


Unfortunately we do not have to look back to far to see an example of this happening to our job.  An FDNY lieutenant died fighting a three-alarm blaze in a Brooklyn warehouse on April 16th 2012.  After becoming overheated, Lt. Richard Nappi, 47, of Farmingville, L.I., was taken in cardiac arrest to Woodhull Medical Center, where he died.  Lt. Nappi along with many other firefighters killed in the line of duty left behind a wife and two beautiful children a 12 year old girl and an 11 year old boy.  As with any death on this job the department will review our policies and procedures, as they should.  What do we do as individuals?  What is our role in affecting change in the future to make us safer?  We must remember that SAFETY is “Everyone’s Responsibility”, including ourselves.

As I reflect on his death it reminds me of another devastating period on our job, one that some may tend to overlook, right before September 11th 2001.  In 2001 prior to 9-11 we had lost 6 firefighters and 1 EMT, FF Donald Franklin L-44; heart attack, FF Greg McLaughlin E-302; heart attack.  The fathers day tragedy losing 3 members  Firefighter Harry Ford, 50, a 27-year veteran assigned to Rescue 4 in Queens, Firefighter John Downing, 40, an 11-year veteran assigned to Ladder 163 in Queens, and Firefighter Brian Fahey, 46, a 14-year veteran also from Rescue 4.   After that tragedy we lost the unthinkable!  A 27 year old firefighter to a heart attack after battling a 3 alarm fire in Staten Island, FF Gorumba had 6 months on the job when he died.  Just out of Probie School!  We don’t have to be physicians or rocket scientists to see that we are a very vulnerable group, no matter what your age is!

The question you are probably asking yourself is how can we change this? How can we stop the statistics from continuing in the wrong direction?  I believe we have turned the corner but we are not where we need to be just yet.  Although the national statistics show variable change in the number of LODD, caused by heart attacks, our department, The FDNY has seen a decrease in the number of LODD with the ultimate cause being heart attacks.  I attribute this decrease directly to the FDNY medical office and their annual medical program, the union’s preventative awareness programs and the public-private partnerships that allows easy access to advanced screening programs that are saving lives through early detection and treatment. 

The 1st step we should take is to look at ourselves as a piece of equipment.  No firefighter is going to go into a building without 1st checking his mask.  Would he/she take for granted that when they don his/her face piece the mask will provide lifesaving air?  No, he/she checks the mask makes sure that it is working 100% and that it will not fail him/her when they need it most.  We need to take this same approach when we look at our bodies as a piece of equipment.  Why do we take for granted that our lungs and muscles including the heart are going to function at 100% (when we need it the most)?  We need to check out our most important piece of equipment on the fire floor, which is, our body.  If the roof saw was the piece of equipment you were checking and the senior man told you the most common cause of fatal injuries for firefighters was the saw blade being put on improperly.  What would you do?  You would check that saw twice at the start of each tour then probably put it next to you in the rig and tell nobody to touch it when it was assigned to you.  If the same holds true for heart attacks being the number 1 killer of firefighters why don’t we inspect it as rigorously?  How come we don’t follow some simple guidelines to make sure we are checking ourselves out as though we were that saw?  We need to do a better job at making sure we are fit for duty.  Below is a simple checklist we all should go through yearly to make sure we are ready to perform on the fire floor:

  1. Eat right; Low fat- Low Carb diet- eat cancer fighting vegetables-minimize red meats
  2. Exercise  20-30 minutes a day 5 days a week  with heart rate around 70-85% Max heart rate (220-age)*.7-.85)
  3.  Take your annual medicals seriously
  4. Inform your private physician of your results good or bad
  5. Get advanced screenings based on risk factors and initial medical screening information
  6. NFPA recommends a stress test annually for firefighters over the age of 40
  7. Reduce your exposure to smoke and tobacco products
  8. Never take your health for granted, your life depends on it

Here are some advanced tests that are available to firefighters through your health insurance:

  1. Echocardiogram
  2. Nuclear stress tests
  3. Comprehensive blood work
  4. Stress echocardiogram
  5. Carotid ultrasound
  6. Venous Doppler
  7. Pulmonary function tests
  8. Chest X-rays
  9. CT scans

10.  Arterial Doppler

11.  Angiograms

Having a consultation with a healthcare provider that deals with firefighters and emergency workers can be very beneficial.  There are many medical professionals out there that don’t understand what we do on a daily basis and how those exposures affect our health and risk factor profiles.  Should you have any questions or concerns I can be reach through the health and Safety office of the UFA.  It is my hope, through awareness and screenings we can seek out high risk individuals, treat them before they become a statistic.  The last thing this department needs is another repeat of 2001 and the loss of so many including our members we lost in the months before 9-11.

 SAFETY is Everyone’s Responsibility”


“Standby for a repeat of the department message”  


Stay Safe