WARSAW — Firefighters are in a profession to help others. They are trained to fight fires, conduct rescues, provide medical assistance and save lives when necessary.
But they often forget about their own health. The latest statistics show 47 percent of the deaths of firefighters in the line of duty are cardiac related.
Warsaw-Wayne Township Firefighters have been learning something outside their normal realm of training. They have been learning about heart disease, a problem affecting one in four adults, but higher in their profession.
“It’s a good refresher,” said one of the department’s captains. “We’re in the EMS service, we should know about that. This reminds us about it and it’s always good. We think we’re immune to that stuff, but we forget about ourselves.”
Firefighter Quinten Stamper feels the current sessions have been smart. “It’s something for us to learn. It’s important for us to be learning about cardiovascular health.”
Firefighters have been attending four one-hour sessions of Be Heart Smart, a program offered by Purdue Extension. This program targets adults between the ages of 30-55 to teach about heart disease prevention, before the disease starts.
Jaclyn Franks, health and human sciences extension educator with Purdue Extension Kosciusko County, has been instructing the course, providing information to each shift of firefighters. She noted the higher risk for firefighters is due to their exposure to stress, fumes and dehydration during the tasks of their jobs.
Firefighters have been introduced to the risk factors including cholesterol and blood pressure guidelines, heart-healthy eating plans, stress reduction techniques and how to talk to a health care provider.
The program provides information such as the number of heartbeats in a day, the amount of blood the heart pumps through the body and the miles of blood vessels in a human body. Atherosclerosis, or blocked arteries, is the number one cause of heart disease and can cause such heart conditions as a heart attack, stroke or heart failure. Information is also provided on heart problems such as irregular heartbeat or a leaky valve.
A model of the heart and arteries is used to show normal arteries and those arteries affected by atherosclerosis.
The program is not all on various heart issues. It helps people learn what can be done to control the disease. “Family history and age are not controllable,” said Franks, pointing out it is important for people to know their family history. “What is controllable is high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, weight, eating behaviors, inactivity, smoking and diabetes.”
The groups have learned about the D.A.S.H. Eating Plan or dietary approaches to stop hypertension. “It’s not a diet, it’s a different way to think about what you’re eating,” said Franks. Among those thoughts are limiting sweets, eating more vegetables, fruits, whole grain, fish, and limiting sodium.
She has spoken to the firefighters about benefits of increasing fiber, potassium and lowering consumption of fat, the ideal amount of fiber and sodium per day, alternatives to use, types of fat and provided menus that could be used in preparing meals. Those menus focus on high fiber, low sodium, potassium rich and lot fat.
“Read those food labels and make healthy decisions,” she stressed. “Look at the food labels when you’re looking to buy. There is a difference between name brands and store brands,” she noted.
She also spoke with firefighters about the importance of eating whole fruit, over drinking fruit juices. “The nutrients are in the skin. You’re missing out on the benefits of eating the whole fruit when you drink juices.”
Franks, who presents the program to any interested group or organization, feels the response from the firefighters has been good. This was evident during a recent trivia game when the firefighters got into the game and took the competition seriously.