February is “American Heart Month” and as such I thought it appropriate to discuss some of the things we do here at Spokane Valley Fire Department to encourage our employees to take care of their hearts and to lead healthy lives.
Cardiovascular disease, which includes both heart disease and stroke, continues to be the leading cause of death around the world with almost 18 million deaths each year. Here in the U.S., about 2,300 Americans die of cardiovascular disease each day! That’s an average of one death every 38 seconds! Firefighters are at an increased risk for cardiovascular disease and it ranks as the number one cause of line-of-duty death in firefighters. We are working to reduce these numbers and believe that cardiovascular deaths can be reduced through proactive preventative measures.
- Stress– Each and every year we learn more and more about the negative impact of stress on not just our mental health, but our physical health. Stress causes the body to release adrenaline, which increases your breathing rate and blood pressure. SVFD firefighters are at high risk for stress by the nature of our work. We encourage our employees to reduce stress by various stress management techniques, including exercise which serves as an outlet for stress.
- Nutrition – Eating a well-balanced and healthy diet is another factor that helps decrease the chances of heart disease. SVFD firefighters are encouraged to eat healthy, and the department has a history of incorporating nutrition and healthy meal planning and cooking habits into our training curriculum. The key to heart healthy eating is balance. Meals should be balanced and inclusive of proteins, fruits and vegetables, in order to provide firefighters with the needed requirements to operate under very physically demanding circumstances.
- Physical Health – Exercise and annual medical evaluations are required of SVFD firefighters. Each fire station, including the administrative facility, is equipped with exercise and strength training equipment. Time is allotted in work schedules to afford employees the opportunity to exercise for their health and fitness. Additionally, our firefighting personnel undergo a comprehensive annual physical evaluation performed by an Occupational Medical Physician. These results are tracked and compared so the employee understands his/her overall health status and has the opportunity to discuss their results with a physician.
- Tobacco Use – SVFD employees hired after 2007 must be non-users of tobacco products as a term of employment. Employees hired before that time are encouraged to discontinue tobacco use and are provided support mechanisms to do that through our Wellness program and healthcare providers. Tobacco addiction is difficult to overcome, but if successful in doing so, could be the single most important positive change one can make to not just heart health, but overall health.
- Blood Pressure – As mentioned above, physical heath is very important in the effort to reduce cardiovascular disease. A key component of this is maintaining a healthy blood pressure. Recently, the American Heart Association (AHA) and American College of Cardiology (ACC) published new guidelines that lower the definition of high blood pressure. Having high blood pressure can double your risk for cardiovascular disease, so it is very important to monitor blood pressure and discuss your results with your physician. The new guidelines categorize normal blood pressure as being less than 120/80 mm Hg. SVFD employees are encouraged to monitor their blood pressure on a regular basis and seek treatment with their physician if it regularly exceeds this new threshold. Members of our community are encouraged to drop by a fire station and have their blood pressure taken by a firefighter or to drop by one of our blood pressure check events at a local library this month.
I hope that you will take time to consider some of the items above and make some positive heart healthy choices in the future. Our employees are our most valuable asset, and we try hard to make sure that they are healthy, in order to provide the great level of service that our communities have come to expect. These same recommendations apply to you also, if you can make some changes now it is likely to pay big dividends for your health in the future.
I wish you all good health, and as always, appreciate your tremendous support!
~Bryan Collins, SVFD Fire Chief