Madison firefighter’s cause of death cardiac arrest, sparks reviews

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MADISON (WKOW) – Madison Fire officials say 29-year-old firefighter Rick Garner’s cause of death Easter Sunday a short time after he completed a work shift is listed on his death certificate as cardiac arrest.

“Acute cardiac arrest,”  Fire Chief Steven Davis says.  “With an underlying factor of hypertensive cardiovascular disease.”

“He was a young, strong, healthy guy,” fellow firefighter Dave Guthrie tells 27 News.

Guthrie and Garner often worked together with paramedic assignments out of fire station #10 on the city’s north side.

“There’s just a lot of unknowns as to what went on with Rick,” Davis says.

Davis says Garner ended his 48-hour shift the morning of April 1st and died approximately six hours later in Racine County after attending church and having brunch with friends.

Davis says there’s nothing to indicate anything Garner did in those few, off-shift hours contributed to his death.

Davis says the normal, Madison firefighting shift is 24-hours.  He says there will be a discussion about the impact of an extended shift, which is voluntary.

Guthrie says a 48-hour shift can be a challenge.

“I mean it all depends on the calls,” Guthrie says.  “Sometimes you can DO 24 hours without sleeping at all, which is a huge toll on the body.”

“We do know sleep deprivation really does impact long term health,” Davis says.

Davis says Garner responded to 13 calls during the longer shift prior to his death, with a few calls higher stress, including a child birth and the report of someone possibly armed with a knife.

Davis says the National Institute on Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) is including Garner’s case in a study of a half dozen similar, unexplained firefighter deaths nationwide in the past six months.

Davis says the department is reinforcing its commitment to firefighter wellness and putting out a Request For Proposal (RFP) for a performance evaluation of the tools used to measure the skills and health of firefighter recruits, and semi-annually, veteran firefighters.

Madison Firefighters Union Local 311 President Mahlon Mitchell says because Garner’s death took place within 24 hours of a work shift, federal law considers the death in-the-line-of-duty.  Mitchell says once that designation for Garner is finalized, Garner’s survivors will be entitled a $359,000 benefit.

Tony Galli

Tony Galli

Reporter, WKOW

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