CSU Homecoming 5K supports program to reduce firefighter deaths

Note to Reporters: High-resolution photos are available at http://col.st/Yyq8w.

Participating in Colorado State University’s Homecoming 5K on Oct. 8 not only helps you improve your own health, but the health of firefighters too.

Imagine, for a minute, that you’re a firefighter, and a house is burning near Old Town. You throw on your gear, hop in the fire engine, and head to the scene. Sirens blare as you race through the streets of Fort Collins. The familiar smell of smoke fills the air, and flames come into view. You jump out of the engine and sprint toward the burning building.

Something isn’t right. You feel a sharp pain in your chest, and you collapse to the ground.

For firefighters across the country, this situation happens more than you might think. More than 50 percent of line-of-duty deaths are cardiac-related. This is due, in part, because of a lack of comprehensive testing, so individuals may be unaware of their own risk factors.

Fortunately, this is preventable. Cardiovascular disease risk factors are known and most are controllable. However, the only way to control them is for individuals to know they are personally at risk, and without proper testing, this doesn’t always happen.

The Heart Disease Prevention Program in the Department of Health and Exercise Science at CSU is trying to address this through its Firefighter Testing Program. The HDPP works with 24 fire agencies across Colorado to identify and manage these risk factors.

“This program is a huge deal to us because cardiac-related deaths are so common in our work,” said Poudre Fire Authority Captain and Safety Officer Patrick Love. “Not only are the individual assessments important to us, but the research is also valuable.”

A long history

The HDPP has been testing Poudre Fire Authority firefighters for more than 10 years.

“As you can imagine, tracking these parameters across a decade provides insight for both the firefighter and the department,” said HDPP Director Tiffany Lipsey. Longevity is vital for this job, she explained, so having data that spans a decade is important for maintaining health throughout an individual’s career.

The partnership between the HDPP and Colorado fire agencies also benefits the safety of the community, said Love.

Love described a situation in which a firefighter goes down at the scene of a fire. Now, the department not only has to save the burning home and whomever is inside, they also have to attend to one of their own.

“We would much rather spend resources preventing an occurrence than have to react afterwards at a much higher cost,” he said.

At the HDPP, firefighters are tested for a variety of blood pressure and fitness parameters, including strength and endurance, flexibility, body composition, blood pressure and nutrition, in addition to having blood work done to look for indicators of heart disease.

The HDPP also enjoys a collaboration with the cardiologists at the Heart Center of the Rockies, part of the UCHealth Network. The cardiology group oversees the exercise stress testing and other medical aspects of the firefighter screening and lifestyle coaching program.

The HDPP is also open to members of the CSU and Fort Collins communities.

These tests are costly to perform, which is why the annual CSU Homecoming Race is such a big support to the program. Last year the race raised more than $47,000 from sponsors and participants.

About the race

Now in its 36th year, the race will once again benefit HDPP as runners and walkers of all ages line the CSU Oval on Oct. 8.

Early-bird registration by 4 p.m. on Sept. 30 is $25, preregistration by noon on Oct. 7 is $30, and race-day registration is $35. The entry fee includes a custom-designed, long-sleeved T-shirt. The race will begin at 8 a.m., with a free Kids Fun Run led by CAM the Ram at 9 a.m.

Registration is open online at http://col.st/rWsed or in person at Moby B-wing, Room B220, 952 W. Plum St., on the CSU campus.

The Homecoming 5K is one of the biggest in the state. Last year, nearly 2,000 participants completed the 3.1-mile course that winds its way past Morgan Library, athletics facilities, residence halls and classrooms before concluding where it begins on the Oval. The Homecoming 5K has become a staple event at CSU, with hundreds of Rams and Ram fans donning their green, gold and Aggie orange to run through campus at the height of its fall splendor.

Sponsors of this year’s race include CSU Youth Sport Camps, Re/Max Alliance, Triple Crown Sports, the CSU Bookstore, Miramont Lifestyle Fitness, UCHealth, The Egg and I, Eyecare Associates, Gay and Karan Israel, Ren and Sharon Jensen, Barry Braun, Bill and Jan Beitz, Jessica and Andrew Wright, Markley Motors, HP and Sam Cooper Design.

For more information on Homecoming and Family weekend at CSU, visit homecoming.colostate.edu.

A dedication

In April, former department head of Health and Exercise Science Richard G. (Gay) Israel passed away after a courageous battle with pancreatic cancer. Israel served as department head for 18 years and was the founder of the HDPP. He was passionate about health and the Fort Collins community, and the Homecoming Race had a special place in his heart. This year’s race is dedicated to him. Each T-shirt will feature a fish with Israel’s initials on the tail in honor of his love of fishing.

“Dr. Israel was a very caring and capable individual who made a huge impact wherever he went,” Love said. “It’s amazing what he accomplished.”

The Department of Health and Exercise Science is in CSU’s College of Health and Human Sciences.