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Risky Flames: Firefighter coronaries spike during blazes

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8:41am, March 21, 2007

Fighting fires is hard on the heart. In fact, heart disease causes 45 percent of on-the-job deaths among firefighters, compared with only 22 percent among police officers. New research shows that a disproportionate number of the firefighter deaths—whether caused by heart attacks, arrhythmias, or blood clots—occur during blazes.

"This is the strongest evidence yet that specific duties, namely fire suppression, lead to deaths from heart disease," says researcher Stefanos N. Kales of the Cambridge Health Alliance and the Harvard School of Public Health. "It's an interaction between the fight-or-flight response and underlying heart disease."

When alarm bells ring, "the stress, the fear, the danger all kick in and [firefighters'] heart rates jump," Kales adds. In firefighters with blocked arteries or other risk factors, this strain can be too much.

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