Assessing Firefighters' Cardio Fitness for Strenuous Duty

For firefighters, sudden cardiac death is the number one cause of occupational fatality. Accurately assessing their cardiopulmonary function is critical to occupational health and safety. Over-estimations may place firefighters at risk during rescue missions if they are unprepared for the physical demands of the assignment.1

A new study published by Dana Drew-Nord from UCSF investigates the “gold standard” protocol used in the United States for assessing firefighters’ cardiopulmonary capacity, as proposed by the Fire Service Joint Labor Management Wellness-Fitness Initiative (WFI).

Drew-Nord and her research team assessed the aerobic function of 83 firefighters from all ranks of a Northern California department. Study subjects performed maximal exercise treadmill tests and peak VO2 assessments, a measure of maximal aerobic capacity.

They found the revised 2008 WFI sub-maximal treadmill accurately estimates peak VO2, but the traditional maximal heart rate estimate proposed by WFI prior to the 2008 revision was significantly higher than measured maximal heart rate, and estimated peak VO2 was also significantly higher than directly measured VO2.

Performing peak VO2 and treadmill tests can be a challenge for fire departments with limited financial and human resources; however, Drew-Nord’s study underscores the importance of their role in assessing a firefighters’ preparedness for emergency fire and rescue duty.2

Her research was made possible with support from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and the UCSF School of Nursing Century Club.

1,2 Drew-Nord DC, Myers J, Nord SR, Oka RK, Hong O, Froelicher ES. “Accuracy of Peak VO2 assessments in career firefighters. J Occup Med Toxicol. 2011 Sep 25; 6(1):25.

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