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Blood pressure and heart rate responses in volunteer firefighters while wearing personal protective equipment

Feairheller, Deborah L.

doi: 10.1097/MBP.0000000000000120
Clinical Methods and Pathophysiology
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Background Hypertension, cardiovascular disease, and obesity are global health problems and are a large concern for firefighters. The leading cause of death among firefighters is cardiac-related; hence, it is important to understand how firefighter personal protective equipment (PPE) affects cardiovascular responses to different activities. Volunteer firefighters represent 70% of all firefighters and are an understudied population. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first study to report blood pressure (BP) responses in volunteer firefighters.

Methods and results Thirty-six male, nonsmoking volunteer firefighters (27.8±9.7 years) underwent two maximal treadmill tests within 2 weeks, one in regular gym clothes and one in PPE. We found that while wearing PPE, which weighs 54.2±3.5 lbs, BP responses are exaggerated during work and in recovery. Systolic BP and heart rate were significantly (P<0.05) higher at each submaximal stage and during active recovery of the PPE test compared with the regular clothing test (15–23 mmHg and 20–34 bpm higher, respectively). Test time and VO2 max were lower in the PPE test (P<0.05).

Conclusion BP responses are exaggerated while wearing full fire protective gear and remain elevated during recovery. Awareness of how firefighting activities affect BP is important; so future studies should examine how the BP increase relates to resting BP levels, to PPE weight, and to the thermal effects of the PPE.

The HEART (Hypertension and Endothelial function with Aerobic and Resistance Training) Laboratory, Department of Health & Exercise Physiology, Ursinus College, Collegeville, Pennsylvania, USA

Correspondence to Deborah L. Feairheller, PhD, The HEART (Hypertension and Endothelial function with Aerobic and Resistance Training) Laboratory, Department of Health & Exercise Physiology, Ursinus College, 601 E. Main Street, Collegeville, PA 19426, USA Tel: +1 6100 409 3256; e-mail: dfeairheller@ursinus.edu

Received January 11, 2015

Received in revised form March 4, 2015

Accepted March 10, 2015

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