Blog by Todd J. LeDuc
Deputy Chief, Broward Sheriff Fire Rescue (Fla.)

A published study by the Institute of Medicine calls attention to a national epidemic that is particularly threatening to firefighters across the globe untreated hypertension.

With cardiovascular events one of the leading causes of firefighter morbidity and mortality, unrecognized and untreated hypertension and pre-hypertension must be more aggressively diagnosed and confronted.

More than 70 million Americans suffer from hypertension while an additional 50 million more are close behind with pre-hypertension.

Hypertension contributes to nearly one-third of all cardiac events and is the leading cause of stroke and renal failure. According to the International Association of Firefighters website, 75 percent of firefighters with hypertension do not have it controlled.

The United States Fire Administration has reported in a meta-analysis of firefighter line-of-duty reports that the leading cause of fire service deaths is heart attacks, which accounts for 44 percent of all firefighter deaths.

Furthermore, a Harvard study concluded that while only 5 percent of firefighter’s time is actually spent combating fire, they are 100 times more likely to have a heart attack.

This may be attributed to the extremely psychically demanding rigors of the service and environment that firefighters operate within. This, coupled with risk factors such as high blood pressure, obesity, heightened cholesterol levels and a sedentary lifestyle, creates an axis of risk.

Several factors were noted that fire service members should realize. First, only 2 percent of adults receive adequate amounts of potassium. This places a higher propensity to elevated blood pressure levels. A concerted effort must be made to eat foods high in potassium.

The recommended daily intake of potassium is 3,500 milligrams. Excellent sources are fish, fruit (especially bananas, apricots, cantaloupe, and grapefruit), peas, beans, and potatoes, among other foods.

Additionally, compounding the propensity toward high-blood pressure is the over consumption of sodium. In fact, the average adult unknowingly takes in 3,400 milligrams of sodium per day when the daily recommended allowance is 2,300 mg.

This is often a byproduct of processed, canned and prepared food son top of additional table salt added to meals to enhance flavor in preparation or at the dinner table. The study also reviewed contributory factors of excess weight and its effect of hypertension. The researchers concluded that modest reductions of 10 pounds in overweight adults through diet and modest exercise would result in an 8 percent decrease in cases of hypertension.

Of course, the first step in combating hypertension or pre-hypertension is identifying it. This can only be done by routinely monitoring your own blood pressure and sharing the results with your healthcare provider.

The Institute of Medicines findings show we can’t rely on our health care professionals to solve this problem. As the commander of your own ship, it’s imperative you take an aggressive role in managing your blood pressure.

As fire service professionals, your cardiovascular risks are greater than those of the general population and as such your diligence should be greater. Hypertension is not named the silent killer without good reason ignorance is not a panacea for wellness and heath.

Make a pledge to learn your pressure, modify your risk and contributory factors, and embark on a path of prevention. Your proactive imitative can prevent you from reaching a boiling point.

About the Author
Todd J. LeDuc is the deputy chief of department for Broward Sheriff Fire Rescue in Florida. With more than 25 years in the service, he lecturers and publishes frequently on fire service leadership, safety and wellness topics. He has worked extensively with fire departments in more than a dozen states with master and strategic plans, accreditation, department evaluations and consolidation studies.