Fire Department Seeks Federal Funding to Screen Firefighters for Sudden Cardiac Death


August 8, 2011

August 8, 2011, — Cambridge Heart announced that the Freeport, Maine Fire Department has applied for a federal grant to establish firefighter screenings for sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) risk using the company’s Microvolt T-Wave Alternans (MTWA) noninvasive diagnostic test.

Firefighters are at high risk of sudden cardiac death. Nearly 64 percent of on-duty firefighter fatalities in 2010 were caused by sudden cardiac arrest, as shown in statistics compiled by the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA).  

However, 75 percent of those at risk have detectable heart conditions or risk factors, according to preventive cardiologist Lowell Gerber, M.D. He has devised a comprehensive and updated protocol for screening and intervention to reduce the risk of sudden death. Several Freeport Fire Department firefighters were tested last year as part of a pilot program. 

“Traditional stress tests and ECGs (electrocardiograms) are important but only give physicians a partial risk profile,” Gerber says.  “Given the alarming rise in high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes and other risk factors, it’s important to test not only for blood vessel obstructions that can cause heart attacks, but also to include the 15-minute noninvasive MTWA test for detecting risk of potentially deadly arrhythmias, electrical disturbances that trigger sudden cardiac arrest.” 

The new firefighter testing protocol also includes a comprehensive evaluation of metabolic abnormalities, which may underlie the T-wave alternans electrical disturbances, but can be managed to reduce risk of sudden death.

The Freeport Fire Department’s application for the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Assistance To Firefighters Grant Program will be reviewed this summer. If approved, screening will begin in September.

 “While our first concern is the safety of our professional and volunteer firefighters, we also anticipate a reduction in the significant workers compensation costs associated with heart disease,” says Freeport Fire Chief Darrel Fournier.  “The updated testing and intervention pilot program we initiated last fall for firefighters has already resulted in lifestyle changes that may be reducing their health risks.  It is my hope that other fire departments look at this program.”

Sudden cardiac arrest continues to be the leading cause of death in the United States, claiming more than 300,000 lives each year.

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