Volunteer firefighters 'not surprised' to hear of heart risks 

VOLUNTEER firefighters in the Peel region say they are not surprised to hear they are at a greater risk of coronary heart disease than other emergency services personnel.

A study undertaken by the Universities of Curtin and Deakin tested 2900 volunteer firefighters in Victoria, aged between 30 and 74.

The study found the risk of coronary heart disease (CHD) for volunteer firefighters was three times that of other emergency services workers.

Curtin University senior lecturer Kevn Netto said high-intensity activity performed in a hazardous environment, long shifts and sleep deprivation were “a big concern” and placed considerable stress on the cardiovascular system.

Mandurah Southern Districts Bush Fire Brigade captain Arthur Stanton, who has been a volunteer for 14 years, said the study results were expected.

“There’s a certain amount of stress when you’re at a major incident; there’s heat exhaustion stress, smoke is always a worry and a big concern is your crew - you’re always concerned for their safety,” Mr Stanton said.

“I’m not surprised to hear this; these guys are at the frontline.”

Lake Clifton Brigade volunteer John Stone, who was deputy chief at the Mandurah Brigade until last year, said he was “not surprised at all” to hear of the increased risk of heart disease.

“Fatigue levels, emotional stress and dehydration - you’re stressed physically to the max, I would totally agree with the findings.”

Dr Netto said volunteer firefighters did not benefit from the same training or health checks as their paid counterparts. 

“Not only does it appear volunteer firefighters don’t benefit from a healthy work environment, it is likely they aren’t subject to the same health checks, nor would they receive the same frequency or level of physical training,” he said.

“Given the crucial role volunteer firefighters have in Australia our research clearly supports a case for improved health and fitness guidelines and cardiovascular health interventions.”

The study was undertaken in conjunction with the Country Fire Authority and the Bushfire Co-operative Research Centre and Public Health Management and is the first of its kind in Australia.

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