BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The most frequent cause of death among
firefighters is not flames: It's their hearts.
Forty-four percent of U.S. firefighters who died on duty in 2007
succumbed to a heart attack, based on data from the U.S. Fire
Administration. That figure is twice the number of cardiovascular
deaths among on-duty police officers.
Despite the high incidence of death among these important
protectors of society, no recording of the electrical activity of
the heart over time using an electrocardiogram (ECG) has been
collected to determine why firefighters are at unusually high risk
of dying on the job.
Mary Carey, Ph.D., assistant professor in the University at
Buffalo School of Nursing, has received a $411,539 two-year grant
from the National Institute of Nursing Research to monitor
firefighters' heart function while on duty to identify those at
risk for heart attack and sudden cardiac death.
The new study, called SAFFE -- Surveying & Assessing
Firefighter Fitness and Electrocardiograms -- is underway and
involves 118 members of the Buffalo Fire Department in up to 12
fire precincts around the city.
A heart attack is caused by an interruption of blood flow, while
sudden cardiac death results from a disruption of heart rhythm.
Carey has done research on sudden cardiac death with John M. Canty
Jr., M.D., Albert and Elizabeth Rekate Professor and director of
the Center for Research in Cardiovascular Medicine in the UB School
of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.
"This novel study will develop a non-invasive risk
stratification approach to identify more accurately which
firefighters are at risk for cardiovascular events," said
"Over the longer term, this research should help develop
algorithmic guidelines that would send at-risk firefighters for
aggressive cardiac care to reduce their cardiovascular risk
Carey's pilot study conducted with 28 Buffalo firefighters
showed that they could wear a portable ECG, a device that monitors
heart function beat-to-beat, while on the job, and that the device
provided accurate data.
In the new study researchers first will collect firefighters'
resting ECG and oxygen intake (VO2) and maximum ECG and VO2 while
participants exercise on treadmill. ECG measures will continue to
be collected for eight hours after returning from a call, because
research shows firefighters are at highest risk of cardiac events
after a call.
Participants will wear the ECG strapped to their torso, which
will collect data from 10 points, called leads, continuously for 24
hours during all activities: fire and medical calls, training,
meals, exercise and nonemergency duties such as maintenance,
parades, classroom activities, and rest or sleep.
The relationship between heart rate and VO2 will be collected
during short periods while firefighters are on duty.
"Because cardiac events are one of the leading causes of death
among these first-responders who serve the public, we hope that
using these measurements will help identify those whose health is
at risk while they protect ours," said Carey.
James A Fallavollita, M.D., UB professor of medicine and senior
scientist in the cardiovascular research center, also is a
significant contributor on the study.
The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive
public university, a flagship institution in the State University
of New York system and its largest and most comprehensive campus.
UB's more than 28,000 students pursue their academic interests
through more than 300 undergraduate, graduate and professional
degree programs. Founded in 1846, the University at Buffalo is a
member of the Association of American Universities.