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Firefighters' lives typically threatened by much more than flames

Firefighters in California face some of the most hazardous occupational challenges. If this is your line of work, you might be interested in the findings of researchers in a study that was done to determine the impact firefighting has on the heart. The result of the research underscores the fact that while you work to save the lives of others, you may be putting your own life on the line.

The physical exertion and exposure to intense heat make firefighting one of the most stressful and challenging of all occupations. You might not have been aware that, even if you manage to remain safe from injuries, you may face potentially deadly health risks in the long term.

The study

An international group of researchers selected a random group of healthy firefighters and gave them a task of participating in a simulation rescue exercise. Each firefighter had to enter a burning building at which a fire raged with temperatures as high as 752 degrees Fahrenheit. They each had to rescue a person weighing about 176 pounds from the second story. The same group of workers then had to repeat the same exercise one week later.

During each session, the firefighters wore personal heart monitors and researchers measured their blood pressures and heart rates before the exercise and again afterward. This enabled the researchers to accurately determine the health of their hearts prior to the task and also after completion. By these means, they could measure the level of strain put on the cardiovascular functions of each participant.

The results

There are certain processes in the human body that can increase the odds of an individual suffering a heart attack. The researchers found that the physical toil and exertion along with the exposure to extreme heat the firefighters experienced in this simulated rescue brought about some of those same processes. They determined that, in over 20 minutes, the core body temperatures of the firefighters rose almost 2 degrees Fahrenheit -- on average.

With water loss in the body, the hemoglobin level in the blood rises, making the blood more concentrated. This exaggerates the usual physiological reaction of blood clotting during exposure to extreme physical exertion and excessive heat levels. The lead researcher concluded that along with exaggerated blood clotting, these two stressors could cause impairment in blood vessels, heart muscle injuries and the forming of blood clots.

Be proactive

Knowing that your firefighting job puts you at an increased risk of heart attacks may encourage you to have frequent medical evaluations. Regular tests and scans to monitor heart health and gaining knowledge in understanding the signs that may warn you of cardiac problems or a heart attack may allow you to receive medical care before your condition turns into an emergency.

You may also find comfort in knowing that the California workers' compensation insurance system will cover medical expenses and lost wages in such an unfortunate event. Furthermore, you may utilize the services of experienced legal counsel to provide support and guidance if you were to ever face these circumstances.

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