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Firefighter training death highlights need for cardiovascular awareness

After a firefighter with underlying heart issues died during a training exercise, NIOSH recommends keeping an eye on heart health

Following the heart-related death of a volunteer lieutenant during a live fire training exercise, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health is recommending firefighters take the necessary steps to be better aware of their cardiovascular health.

Lancaster Township (Pa.) Fire Department Lt. Keith Gregory Rankin, 38, was the instructor-in-charge during a live-fire training drill and was inside a burn building when his low-air alarm went off, according to the NIOSH report.

Lt. Rankin exited the building, changed his air cylinder, and began debriefing the fire department when he suddenly lost consciousness. Firefighters performed CPR and used an AED, while an ambulance arrived 12 minutes later.

He was taken to the hospital, dying 40 minutes after first collapsing. The autopsy determined the cause of death as "cardiac dysrhythmia due to hypertrophic cardiomegaly."

Lt. Rankin reportedly had underlying heart problems, and the physical exertion of the training drill may have aggravated them triggering a cardiac event.

NIOSH recommends departments make sure firefighters go through annual medical evaluations consistent with NFPA 1582, Standard on Comprehensive Occupational Medical Program for Fire Departments.

Although these evaluations may be costly, NIOSH says using paramedic or EMT services that are already available may lower costs.

Investigators also encourage departments to implement wellness and fitness programs and tests to help catch cardiovascular problems early on and maintain the required level of physical fitness.

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