Not only do they battle the flames, heat and exhaustion of Australia’s bushfire season, but new research says volunteer firefighters may also be more likely to have to fight off heart disease than other emergency services.
A study from Western Australia’s Curtin University says volunteer firefighters are at a greater risk of coronary heart disease than other volunteer and paid emergency services personnel – with their extreme working conditions the likely cause.
The breakthrough research studied almost 3000 volunteer firefighters from Victoria, assessing them for a variety of risk factors including age, sex, smoking, blood pressure, cholesterol and glucose.
Dr Kevin Netto, a senior lecturer at Curtin’s School of Physiotherapy and Exercise Science, said the results revealed volunteer firefighters were subject to unique demands.
The predicted 10-year risk of coronary heart disease for the volunteer firefighters was three times that of their emergency counterparts.
“The general population isn’t subjected to bursts of high intensity activity performed in a potentially hazardous environment, with long shifts and shortened sleep patterns,” Dr Netto said.
“Volunteer firefighters could be putting themselves at considerable risk.”
The study also said volunteer firefighters did not get access to the same health checks as paid counterparts, and would not receive the same frequency or level of physical training.
“Given the crucial role volunteer firefighters have in Australia – including working at Victoria’s Black Saturday fires and the recent destructive blazes in New South Wales – our research clearly supports a case for improved health and fitness guidelines,” Dr Netto said.