Assistant Deputy Chief Rob Heppell of the Saanich Fire Department stands with members of the SportsCardiologyBC. (Photo courtesy Rob Heppell)

Nearly 100 Saanich firefighters join heart health study for first responders

About half of on-duty fatalities caused by cardiac incidents, firefighter says

Saanich firefighters chose to show heart health some love and took part in a sports cardio study this month.

During the week of June 8, a research team from SportsCardiologyBC spent five days working with and screening members of the Saanich Fire Department, said Assistant Deputy Chief Rob Heppell.

The researchers are working their way across the province recruiting participants for the heart health program for first responders, Heppell explained. He called it a win-win because the SportsCardiologyBC team got to collect data and Saanich firefighters got to have their heart health assessed.

READ ALSO: Saanich firefighters adjust to COVID-19 while maintaining community connections

Heppell said more than 90 members of the department participated in the voluntary comprehensive cardiac screening. He was “thrilled with the level of participation” as the study was “really a benefit to the department.”

Members were asked to fill out confidential questionnaires about their health, lifestyle and career. Then, the firefighters had blood work done and their blood pressure assessed before moving on to the stress test – exercise on a stationary bike.

READ ALSO: Welcome to grilling season: Saanich firefighter talks barbecue safety tips

Afterwards, participants were invited to speak privately with a cardiologist from SportsCardiologyBC about the results, their personal heart health and any lifestyle changes they should make. Heppell said this was a bonus for participants because, without symptoms, it can be difficult to get an appointment with a cardiologist which often means underlying issues are unaddressed until a medical incident occurs.

It’s important for everyone to be aware of cardiovascular disease and to check-in with a doctor, Heppell said, but for firefighters, it can be vital. According to research, about 45 per cent of on-duty fatalities among firefighters are caused by cardiovascular incidents, he explained.

READ ALSO: Canadian study finds ‘stunning’ lack of research into women’s heart health

“A cardiovascular event, particularly a fatality can be devastating to the firefighter’s family and the community at large,” Heppell said.

He added that while Saanich firefighters aren’t required to have an annual physical, it’s recommended. “Early detection is the key,” he said. “It’s important for all of us – not only firefighters.”


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