Researchers concluded in an article published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene (JOEH) that fire departments can reduce stress on firefighters by signaling emergencies with "ramp-up" alert tones -- alarms that gradually rise in intensity instead of sudden, full-volume alerts.
In their article, "Effect of Station-specific Alerting and Ramp-up Tones on Firefighters’ Alarm Time Heart Rates," James J. MacNeal and Christopher L. Wistrom of the Department of Emergency Medicine, Mercyhealth (Janesville, Wis.) and David C. Cone of the Yale University School of Medicine's Department of Emergency Medicine noted that of the 97 firefighters who died in the line of duty during 2013, 32 died from overexertion, stress, and related medical issues, and that heart attacks accounted for two-fifths of on-duty deaths in the past five years.
Previous studies have established that firefighters are more susceptible to heart attacks when responding to emergencies versus non-emergencies.
The study involved 42 firefighters at an urban, three-station fire department. The researchers analyzed participants' heart-rate increases in response to standard alerting and to alerts that gradually "ramp up" the audio volume. They found that standard alerting caused a median increase in heart rate of 7 beats per minute, while the ramp-up tones caused a median increase of 5 bpm, and their post-study survey found the firefighters strongly preferred the ramp-up tones.
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