The heart-attack death of a Somerset, Pennsylvania, volunteer firefighter in February served as a grim reminder of the hidden hazards of an already dangerous job.
Forty-eight-year-old Edward Roddy collapsed while fighting the South Park Avenue blaze on Nov. 5 in Somerset. He died Feb. 22 at a Pittsburgh hospital.
Roddy’s death inspired leaders at Windber Fire Department and Windber Medical Center in Pennsylvania to begin looking at ways to reduce firefighters’ risks.
The two organizations have launched a program to improve the physical and mental strength of local emergency responders and provide outreach to the entire community.
Under the Fit Firefighter Program, members of the Windber Fire Department, its auxiliary and EMS ambulance service receive free one-year memberships at the hospital’s HealthStyles fitness center, along with health screenings and seminars.
“This is a great opportunity for both organizations and is the only program of its kind in the area,” fire company President Anson Bloom said.
“Firefighter health, wellness, and safety is priority No. 1 to the Windber Fire Department, and we will do everything possible to protect our members’ well-being and ensure they are physically up to the challenge.”
So far, 20 people have enrolled in the program, which began with a cardiac health seminar by Windber cardiologist Dr. Cyril Nathaniel. Participants are also receiving physicals and blood screenings to identify risks.
“As leaders, it’s our job to make sure they are physically fit and make sure they get home at night,” Bloom said.
The U.S. Fire Administration reports that heart disease is the leading cause of on-duty firefighter fatalities.
“We’re excited to partner with Windber Fire Company to bring the Fit Firefighter Program to our local firefighters,” hospital President and CEO Tom Kurtz said.
“The nature of their work is extreme, both physically and mentally, and we are happy to provide this very meaningful program. This is beneficial for firefighters, their families and the community, and we’re really proud of that.”
HealthStyles Director Gary Pagano says a structured fitness program can play an important role for firefighters, or anyone who wants to reduce the risk of heart disease.
“From the standpoint of getting them stronger for the job the fire department does, we can really help,” Pagano said.
Hospital leaders see the firefighter program as an illustration of how Windber Hospital is serving the community.
“I think it’s a good first step in reaching out to community organizations,” Pagano said.
“We are not limiting the program to the fire department.”
“Promoting health and wellness within the community is ingrained in our culture here, so this program is a perfect fit for us,” Kurtz said. “We see a lot of potential to expand this program too.”
Fit Firefighter is funded through Windber Hospital as part of its charitable mission.
“We are a community hospital,” spokeswoman Amy Jeffords said. “It’s our job to partner with the community and keep them healthy.”
A second phase of the partnership with the fire company will bring community training in lifesaving skills.
With funding from the Community Foundation for the Alleghenies and the Italian Abruzzi Cultural Heritage Fund, the fire company will offer first aid training at the hospital, including cardiopulmonary resuscitation and the use of automated external defibrillators. There will also be babysitter classes and smoke detector and carbon monoxide detector checks.
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