Medical Minute 10-26: Firefighters: Cooling Hearts, Staying Alive

By: Ramin Khalili Email
By: Ramin Khalili Email

It is punishing, blinding smoke, toxic fumes, temperatures pushing one-thousand degrees.Hot enough to melt a fire helmet. Then, add in 70-plus pounds of protective gear.

"Like, anybody who's ever ran races and stuff like that, it's the same thing. You can feel your heart beating in your chest," said Richard Dodds.

82 on-duty firefighters died in the u-s last year. Four-percent of those deaths were of sudden cardiac arrest, and since 2004, it's accounted for 39 percent of all on-duty deaths.

"High heat levels, we know from other areas of research makes your blood coagulate faster. So if you have what otherwise might have been a small heart attack, it could be a large heart attack," said Dave Hostler, Ph.D. University of Pittsburgh in Bradford, PA.

In a burning building, body temperatures routinely hit 104-degrees, so researchers at the university of Pittsburgh are testing two high-tech cooling techniques. These specially designed portable chairs have a pool of water in the arm rest.

"Because your arm is immersed in water from the elbow down, the blood in your veins, which is very close to the skin, exchanges its heat with the water, and returns cool blood to the body."

Firefighters are also testing cooling vests, like the ones used by "NASCAR" drivers. Tubes pump icy liquid through material near the body's core to cool it down. Experts are comparing body temperatures and heart rates for crews using both methods. Keeping cool - to keep moving for another emergency.

For More Information, Contact:Dave Hostler, PhD Dir., Emergency Responder Human Performance Lab University of Pittsburgh(412)624-4141hostlerdp@upmc.edu


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