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Firefighters’ blood pressure surges when they are called to action



Firefighters with high normal BP, high BMI

Dr. Feairheller and colleagues recruited 41 volunteer and employee firefighters from suburban Philadelphia and Dover, N.H.

On average, the 37 men and 4 women had a mean age of 41 years, had been working as firefighters for 16.9 years, and had a mean body mass index of 30.3 kg/m2.

They wore ambulatory blood pressure monitors during an on-call work shift for at least 12 consecutive hours.

In addition to the automatic readings, the participants were instructed to prompt the machine to take a reading whenever a pager or emergency call sounded or when they felt they were entering a stressful situation.

Over the 12-hour shift, on average, participants had a blood pressure of 131/79.3 mm Hg and a heart rate of 75.7 bpm.

When they were alerted go to a fire, their blood pressure surged by 19.2/10.5 mm Hg, and their heart rate rose to 85.5 bpm.

Similarly, when they were alerted to go to a medical emergency, their blood pressure jumped up by 18.7/16.5 mm Hg and their heart rate climbed to 90.5 bpm.

The surges in blood pressure and heart rate were similar when participants were riding in the fire truck to a call or when the call turned out to be a false alarm.

What can be done?

“If we can increase awareness and identify specific risk factors in firefighters,” Dr. Feairheller said, this could “save a life of someone who spends their day saving lives and property.”

To start, “regular, in-station or home BP monitoring should be encouraged,” she said. “Firefighters should start to track their BP levels in the morning, at night, at work. Being a volunteer firefighter myself, I know the stress and anxiety and sadness and heavy work that comes with the job,” she said. “I want to be able to do what I can to help make the crews healthier.”

Dr. Sasson suggested that ways to increase awareness and improve the health of firefighters might include “counseling, appropriate breaks, possibly food service/delivery to provide better nutritional options, built-in time for exercise (gym or cardio equipment on site), and discussions about how stress can impact the body over time.”

It is important to advocate for better mental health care, because people may have PTSD, depression, substance abuse, or other mental health conditions brought on by their stressful jobs, she said.

“Also, it would be interesting to know what is the current state of health monitoring (both physical, mental, and emotional) that occurs for firefighters,” she said.

The American Heart Association funded the study. The authors and Dr. Sasson report no disclosures.

A version of this article first appeared on


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