In the wake of this sad week for firefighters, I can't help but feel bewildered by the attitudes of some firefighters.
Two of our brothers and sisters died this week while completing routine training exercises.
While there is no evidence or even speculation that the recent deaths of FDNY-Probie Jamel Spears, 33 and Volunteer-Cecilia Turnbough, 42, for Dale City Fire-VA were in poor physical shape or that a lack of fitness in some way contributed to their death (nor am I implying that it was a factor) we must understand how taxing our job is on our bodies.
Fortunately more and more research is being done to find out exactly what happens physiologically when firefighters perform both training exercises and engage in actual emergency management and fire response.
Unfortunately, there hasn't been enough transfer of information from the researchers to the subjects. I plan on devoting a great deal of my life to this, starting now.
The first issue that I would like to discuss, because I think it may be one of the easiest to describe in terms that are understood by the non-exercise scientist is Cardiovascular Drift, also known as Cardiac Drift. I will try to keep this as simple, yet as informative as possible.
1) Cardiac Drift starts to occur in subjects that participate in prolonged aerobic exercise or in aerobic exercise in a hot environment. In this case "hot environment" encompasses the conditions surrounding structural and vehicle fire incidents or training as well as Wildland firefighting.
2) Cardiac Drift is the heart's last-ditch effort to compensate for all of the physiological changes that surround elevated core temperature, and other conditions of fire fighting. Once the body has sustained 30 minutes of firefighting activities, the heart starts to lose ground and it WILL NOT catch back up until it gets to rest--or the FF's workload AND environmental temperature both decrease drastically.
The Heart's production or cardiac output starts to decline when our body needs it the most.
These physiological changes include but are not limited to:
-- A decrease in stroke volume of the heart, or the amount of blood the heart is able to pump-out in one beat.
-- A decrease in the body's overall blood volume due to profuse and persistent sweating (loss of H2O).
-- Increase in the amount of blood dedicated to the superficial areas of the body, directed there for the purpose of heat loss, cooling.
-- Also, systemic arterial blood pressure decreases, the blood that supplies all of the bodies tissues other than the heart and lungs
-- Finally, Pulmonary arterial pressure decreases, the arteries that supply the lungs with blood from the heart to be oxygenated.
3) The heart then uses its last resort. It increases your Heart Rate-- consistently and drastically until you reach your maximum heart rate, and then stays at your maximum heart rate (subtract your age from 220 beats per minute to find this 220 bpm - Age in years = Max HR) until it gets respite as described earlier.
Don't be too alarmed by this, as it does sound like a recipe for disaster! The human body is amazing and the adaptations it makes in order to facilitate situations and environments like firefighting are phenomenal.
But, one should reflect on the health of their own heart.
For instance, what type of lifestyle do you lead and how does that affect the health of your heart? When was the last time you had your Cholesterol levels checked? And finally in one word- Nicotine?
The narrowing and plaque build up of the arteries is a scary thought for anyone, much less someone who is routinely engaging in fire-fighting activities that provoke the conditions listed above.
In Closing, please be safe and commit to living a heart-healthy lifestyle for both your families and brothers and sisters in the fire service. What better gift could you give your family around the holidays than committing to be healthy and prolong your life with the people you love.
To the families of our recent fallen firefighters, my thoughts and prayers are with you.