NIOSH LODD Report: Heart Attack Claims Nebraska Captain at Vehicle Fire

NIOSH Fire Fighter Fatality Investigation and Prevention
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On April 16, 2015, a 42-year-old male volunteer captain (the “Captain”) participated in auto extrication training. He set up the extrication tools and performed a door frame cut. The fire department was then dispatched to a motor vehicle fire. The Captain drove the tanker to the fire scene. He performed fire suppression duties.

Read the Report:
Captain Suffers a Heart Attack at a Motor Vehicle Fire and Subsequently Dies

He then drove a tanker to a nearby town to refill the tanker’s water supply. He arrived back at the scene and assisted with overhaul. Then the Captain assisted getting a vehicle off the tow-along trailer. After the fire was declared under control, he remained at the scene to wash debris from the roadway. 

As the Captain prepared to leave the scene, he remarked to the assistant chief that he did not feel well. The Captain exited the tanker and sat on the rear bumper. He related that he was having chest pressure. The Captain then entered the on-scene ambulance. Ambulance emergency medical technicians checked the Captain’s vital signs. Feeling nauseated, the Captain stepped outside the ambulance and collapsed. He was placed back inside the ambulance. Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and basic life support began. Air Care was requested and advanced life support was provided. 

The Captain was transported via ground ambulance to the hospital’s emergency department (ED). Despite CPR and advanced life support, the Captain was pronounced dead

The death certificate and the autopsy report were completed by the Medical Examiner. The cause of death was listed as “acute myocardial infarction” due to “right coronary artery thrombosis” due to “atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease.”

Key Recommendations:

  • Provide preplacement and annual medical evaluations to all fire fighters consistent with National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1582, Standard on Comprehensive Occupational Medical Program for Fire Departments, to identify fire fighters at increased risk for coronary heart disease (CHD)
  • Ensure that fire fighters are cleared for return to duty by a physician knowledgeable about the physical demands of fire fighting, the personal protective equipment used by fire fighters, and the components of NFPA 1582

The following recommendations would not have prevented the Captain’s death, but NIOSH investigators include them to address general safety and health issues:

  • Provide fire fighters with medical clearance to wear a self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) as part of the fire department’s medical evaluation program
  • Perform candidate and annual physical ability evaluations
  • Phase in a mandatory comprehensive wellness and fitness program for fire fighters

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