Research targets heart risks in firefighters

Cardiovascular disease is the top cause of death of on-duty firefighters.
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Research shows that cardiovascular disease is the top cause of death for on-duty firefighters. Statistics show that of firefighter deaths on-duty, 48.1% are due to heart attacks.

Indianapolis firefighters are voluntarily taking part in a survey that could help save lives of fellow firefighters across the globe.

"You try to get out the door in a minute," IFD Cpt. Ron Kautsky explained during an interview.

Once the call comes, it's a mad dash to get out the door.

Fire actually isn't the biggest danger to these men and women; research shows it is heart disease.

"Firefighters are anywhere from 10-100 times more likely to suffer a sudden cardiac death event than they are during routine duties," said Dr. Stefanos Kales with the Harvard School of Public Health.

Constant rushing around, along with a lack of sleep, and heavy equipment are just part of the reason cardiovascular disease is the number one killer of firefighters.

"You wouldn't think about it necessarily until you hear it explained and then it's like, 'Oh yeah, that makes sense'," Kautsky said.

Ever since he tagged along with his stepdad to work, Kautsky has wanted to be a firefighter. He's been one for 18 years.

"It's definitely different than a 9-5 job. You never know what you're going to get," he said.

Or when.

Calls come in at all hours of the day and night and in all weather extremes.

"We're on for 24 hours, from 8 a.m. to 8 a.m. and we're off for 48 hours," he said.

While the lifestyle won't change, researchers hope to change their health by learning the warning signs early. Four hundred Indianapolis firefighters are taking part in the Harvard, Public Safety Medical, and IU Health study.

"I've been fortunate that I've had no trouble with my health," Kautsky said.

So far, he's is beating the odds.

"We have a thorough physical every year," he said.

But he's taking part in the study for his health and the health of firefighters across the world.

"I have a wife and a nine-year-old daughter," he said.

The study is only being done on firefighters since their work experiences and stresses are different than other emergency responders. It should be done by the end of the year and will then be applied to a group of firefighters in Kansas City to check for accuracy.

The goal is to get a better understanding of the risk signs and stages to help prevent heart issues among firefighters.