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This article is the author’s final published version in Blood Pressure, Volume 32, Issue 1, December 2022, Article number 2161997.

The published version is available at Copyright © Rynne et al.


Background: Impaired cardiovascular health is a concern for firefighters, with over 50% of line-of-duty deaths having cardiac causes. Many firefighters have hypertension and <25% have their blood pressure (BP) controlled. The alarm response could be an unidentified cardiac risk, but interestingly, the BP response to different calls and on-the-job activity is unknown.

Purpose: We aimed to measure the physiological stress resulting from different call types (fire, medical) and job activity (riding apparatus, pre-alert alarms) through ambulatory BP (ABP) monitoring in a population of firefighters.

Materials and methods: During 111 12-h work shifts firefighters wore an ABP monitor. BP was measured at 30-min intervals and manual measurements were prompted when the pager went off or whenever they felt stress.

Results: Firefighters were hypertensive (124.3 ± 9.9/78.1 ± 6.7 mmHg), overweight (30.2 ± 4.6 kg/m2), middle-aged (40.5 ± 12.6 years) and experienced (17.3 ± 11.7 years). We calculated an average 11% increase in systolic and 10.5% increase in diastolic BP with alarm. Systolic BP (141.9 ± 13.2 mmHg) and diastolic BP (84.9 ± 11.1 mmHg) and the BP surges were higher while firefighters were responding to medical calls compared to fire calls. Between BP groups we found that medical call systolic BP (p = .001, d = 1.2), diastolic BP (p = .017, d = 0.87), and fire call systolic BP (p = .03, d = 0.51) levels were higher in the hypertensive firefighters.

Conclusion: This is the first report of BP surge responses to alarms and to occupational activities in firefighters, and medical calls elicited the largest overall responses.PLAIN LANGUAGE SUMMARYCardiovascular disease and impaired cardiovascular health are substantially more prevalent in firefighters, with over 50% of line-of-duty deaths being cardiac related.Many firefighters are diagnosed with high blood pressure (hypertension), which is known to increase the risk of heart attacks, strokes, heart disease, and other serious health complications.Upon stress, our body enacts the 'fight or flight' response where sympathetic nervous system activity triggers an immediate increase in heart rate and blood pressure. This response can be dangerous when surges reach extreme levels due to underlying impaired cardiovascular function. It is known that alarm sounds trigger a stress response.Firefighters respond to different alarms while on the job, each indicating different call types, such as a house fire or a medical emergency. Due to the prevalence of impaired cardiovascular health in firefighters, the physical stress resulting from these alerts is cause for concern.The blood pressure surge response to different call types and job activities in healthy and hypertensive firefighters had not been measured before this study.Through the ambulatory blood pressure monitoring of 111 on-duty firefighters, this study discovered that medical calls caused the greatest blood pressure and heart rate surge.Also, firefighters with hypertension experienced a greater blood pressure surge in response to alarms than their non-hypertensive co-workers.

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