Fire department to fight fires and heart disease - WALB.com, South Georgia News, Weather, Sports

Fire department to fight fires and heart disease

By Karen Cohilas - bio | email

December 9, 2008

ALBANY, GA (WALB) - The leading cause of deaths among firefighters is heart attack. Many firefighters are forced to retire early because of heart related issues. 

The Albany Fire Department wants to make sure all employees are in tip top shape for fighting fires.

While you may think that the biggest threat to a firefighter is fire, that's not necessarily the case. "Across the country, over 100 firefighters a year die in the line of duty, most of those are from heart attack and stress related injuries," said Albany Fire Training Chief Ron Rowe.

But the Albany Fire Department doesn't want that to happen. They are getting an almost $300,000 grant to put a health and wellness program into place for the department's employees.  It will allow them to buy fitness equipment for each of the 11 stations.

Rowe said, "Everything we're trying to do is to prepare them to do the life safety duties that they're asked to do when they get on the trucks and go out."

Chief James Carswell said, "It's strictly physical. We can train all day long, we can buy all the equipment in the world, but when the bell goes off, it becomes a physical job."

And firefighters must be in top physical shape to handle it. "When you climb a flight of stairs," said Carswell, "then you've got to do some work, you better be in good physical condition and that's what we strive to do."

Chief Carswell will require all of his firefighters to participate in the program, and he plans to lead by example. "Our whole staff is going to go out and do the same things that our firefighters have to do because, quite frankly, if we're going to require them to do it, we ought to be able to do it also." Getting in top shape, to fight fires and heart disease.

Firefighters will take part in the program over a two year period. They will be evaluated after 12 months to check their level of progress.

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