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Skidmore College

Skidmore’s First Responder lab lands $1.3 million FEMA grant

October 4, 2018
by Lisa Haney

Firefighters bravely run into fires when everyone else is running out. Yet the biggest risk they often face isn’t fire or smoke — it’s suffering from a sudden cardiac event while on duty.

Denise L. Smith, director of the First Responder Health and Safety Laboratory at Skidmore, has been researching firefighter heart health for more than 20 years. Now a $1.3 million Assistance to Firefighters Grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency will enable Smith and her team to put their findings into practice and help save firefighters’ lives.

Professor Smith works with a firefighter during a recent research session at the First Responder lab.
Denise L. Smith observes a firefighter during a recent research session at the First Responder lab.

The grant will fund a two-year project in which Smith’s team will work with the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, leading cardiologists, fire chiefs and other experts to implement a pilot program to screen more than 2,000 firefighters for cardiac risks. The team then will develop and distribute enhanced screening guidelines and educational materials to fire departments nationwide.

Skidmore College President Philip A. Glotzbach hailed Smith’s research as an example of innovative research at Skidmore. The annoucment comes as the College prepares for the Center for Integrative Sciences Groundbreaking Celebration Oct. 20.

“The AFG award is great news for professor Smith, her faculty colleagues and her students, and a well-timed example of the groundbreaking scientific research that’s taking place at Skidmore,” Glotzbach said.

U.S. Rep. Paul D. Tonko congratulated Smith and colleagues.

“We know all too well that our firefighters are the last line of defense against tragedy for families, businesses and communities all across New York and the country,” Tonko said. “The $1.3 million awarded to professor Denise L. Smith and Skidmore College through FEMA’s Assistance to Firefighters Grant program will fund research with the potential to bring an additional layer of safety and protection to those first responders who put themselves in harm’s way.”

In a major AFG-funded study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association on Sept. 5, Smith and colleagues found that the vast majority of firefighters who died from cardiac events showed signs of both enlarged heart and coronary heart disease.

“Most of the screening that’s currently done for firefighters is for coronary heart disease,” said Smith, a Tisch Family Distinguished Professor. “So we are suggesting that firefighters should be screened for enlarged hearts as well — particularly if they have risk factors — because the combination of those two types of cardiovascular disease greatly increase the risk of a sudden cardiac event.”

Smith expressed appreciation for the FEMA grant and, more importantly, the cause that it serves.

“Firefighters put their lives on the line to serve the communities they protect,” said Smith. “This project will help ensure that they are armed with the scientific information and medical screenings they need to protect themselves.”

Denise L. Smith works with firefighters during a recent research session in the First Responder Health and Safety Laboratory at Skidmore.



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