Firefighter Wellness Course to Address Leading Cause of Death

LSU Fire and Emergency Training Institute works to prevent heart disease in firefighters

The National Fire Protection Association recently conducted a study reporting that firefighters are more likely to die from suffering a heart attack than from putting out a fire. In spite of these results, Louisiana has not yet lost any firefighters due to heart attack, and leaders at the LSU Fire and Emergency Training Institute, or FETI, are working to keep it that way. In August of 2009, FETI will offer a Firefighter Wellness course to train both new recruits and career firefighters to act as wellness coordinators within their units.

The national study shows that of the 118 total firefighter fatalities in 2007:

  • 52 firefighters died from heart attack.
  • The majority of heart attacks occurred within 24 hours of a stressful event – not during active fire suppression.
  • 13 firefighters had heart attacks doing something other than training or firefighting.
  • Nine firefighters died from heart attack while working on the scene of a fire.
  • Six of the firefighters died during training activities.
  • Some firefighters suffered a heart attack during physical fitness evaluations.
  • Nationally, the death rate for heart attacks in the fire service is almost twice the rate of any other public safety agency.

“This latest report on firefighter fatalities indicates a need for an aggressive training program aimed at achieving a more fit fire service. LSU will work to train wellness/fitness coordinators in fire departments across Louisiana,” said Jeff Gleason, FETI director.

Gleason recently sent FETI Wellness Coordinator Clay Crain to the American College of Sports Medicine and the Cooper Institute – agencies influential in national public health policy initiatives. Crain brought what he learned as a student at these prestigious institutes back to FETI and is designing a program for Louisiana firefighters.

“It’s about basic nutrition and exercise,” said Crain. “I’m not here to put someone on a diet. We’re just trying to promote health as a means to keep firefighters safe both on and off the fire ground.”

FETI’s mission is to keep firefighters safe by providing the latest and most pertinent information available in response to current trends within the fire service. Initiatives like the upcoming Firefighter Wellness course, among others, are just one way that FETI serves the needs of its clients.

“It begins at the base level with a fitness screening and progresses to a workout regimen that increases in difficulty as the new firefighters build strength and endurance,” said Crain. “For some, this can be a radical change in lifestyle. For others, it’s building upon what they may already be doing. From day one, we train our rookies to be athletes, because on the fire ground, they have to perform on the same level.”

The exact date and class details will be posted on the FETI Web site at www.feti.lsu.edu. Registration is available free of charge to all municipal firefighters in Louisiana by contacting Jessy Hutchinson at 225-334-6300 or 800-256-3473.

For more information, contact Carey King at 225-334-6076 or careyk@lsu.edu.

Ashley Berthelot | Writer | Office of Communications & University Relations
February 2009