Firefighters give their lives to their duty - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Firefighters give their lives to their duty

January 10, 2005

Albany - One-hundred-seven American firefighters died in the line of duty last year. Nearly half the firefighters who died suffered heart attacks or strokes.

Fire fighting is one of the most dangerous jobs in America, and the hazards of fire fighting don't end once the blaze is put out. The stress and dangers of the job nearly left Albany's Fire Department without a chief this year.

"There's nothing like the satisfaction of walking away from a good-working fire knowing what you've done saved a life and saved a family from a huge amount of property loss." Albany Fire Chief Jimmie Arrowood has been fighting fires for more than 30 years. He put out flames long before air filtration systems and high tech fire resistant clothes protected firefighters. "In my day, it was a canvas coat, a plastic helmet, and no breathing apparatus."

The hazards of the job caught up with Chief Arrowood in September when he suffered a heart attack. He was forced to make some changes. "Change in diet and exercise habits, basically if it taste good I can't swallow it."

He was a lucky one though. 49 firefighters died from heart attacks last year. Those deaths made up nearly half of the 107 line-of-duty deaths in 2004.

The job of a firefighter is unique in that one second you're sitting in a quiet fire station and within ten minutes you're inside a burning building with your heart racing. That stress, over the years, can take a dangerous toll on the body.

"The fire service has spent a lot of time and effort in the last ten years in firefighter occupational safety," said Chief Arrowood.

Firefighters are now required to do more than 240 hours of training, and they undergo physical fitness test twice a year to make sure their bodies are up to the task.

Their equipment better filters the harmful smoke. , but burns, smoke inhalation and accidents inside a fire still kill firefighters each year. Despite the dangers, it's a job firefighters say they live for and sometimes die for.

Pennsylvania had the highest number of firefighter deaths last year. Seventeen firefighters were killed.

posted at 3:54PM by kathryn.murchison@walb.com