He Thought He Was Healthy

Letter to the Editor

Jen, first off let me say that I hope your father is recovering well. I read your letter in the newsletter and commend you for the 2×4 between the eyes approach to drawing attention to this issue. I suffered from a cardiac related incident this year that I am recovering from. In the long run I believe that the event was a blessing in disguise in that it moved me from the suppression side to the inspection/investigation side. I was the guy who could out eat just about anyone at the firehouse table. I was overweight but not tremendously but enough that I knew it needed to be fixed. Since the event I have really changed my habits with eating and exercise. It forced a few of the brothers to reevaluate their lifestyles too. All but 3 or 4 have reverted back to the old ways of overeating, lack of exercise, and complaining that the department should make a fitness program mandatory. I try to tell them that once it’s made mandatory that they’ll sit around and complain about having to do it. They are the ones who can effect change and they are the ones to benefit the most but for the most part they can’t see it. Just the other day our 14 new hires were made to do 30 push-ups. Only one could do over 20 and the rest struggled to do 5!!! Of the 14, 5 are grossly overweight and they all smoke! Later in the month I get to do a presentation about my incident. And I’m not taking any prisoners with this one. Thanks for the inspiration and the knowledge that there are others that are just as frustrated. My goal is not relapse and go back to the ways of the past. I don’t want to be replaced as an escort in Emmittsburg, because someone has to escort my family! ~ Deputy Fire Marshal John Crist
Hagerstown, MD

By Jen Underwood, Editor


You know the type…that one person at the firehouse who is always on the go. The person that everyone calls when they need something done and they need it now. That particular someone who is always active, could run circles around people half their age, and whose energy is a marvel. The person you would never expect to have a heart attack…

On Thursday May 29th the unexpected happened: Frank Underwood had a heart attack. Frank is a very active member of his firehouse, who at age 57 still answers the call of the house siren and has done so for over 40 years. He does not believe in walking slowly or putting aside something that could be done right now. Most importantly, Frank is my dad.

In the process of editing this newsletter I often find myself inundated with facts, figures, and statistics. I know and understand the prevalence of heart attacks and heart disease among firefighters. Yet when I received the call that Thursday morning and those two frightening words “heart attack,” I was still completely shocked. This was not a number on a page…this was my dad.

In the week to follow I learned a lot about heart attacks, stints, and even how scary the words “quadruple bypass” can really be. I also learned just how much of a family the fire service really is. From the paramedics who transported Dad, all the way to the President of the Maryland State Firemen’s Association and everyone in between. All offered support, well wishes and encouragement.

While sitting around in those endless hours in the CCU waiting room, I was amazed at how many visiting firefighters had been to that very same unit before for their own heart surgeries and tests. What truly amazed me is how many were continuing to live their lives with the same unhealthy habits that caused their heart problems in the first place.

What is it going to take to get firefighters to truly understand the seriousness of getting their physicals and stress tests?

My father is one of the most active people I know, with a blood pressure so perfect it was referred to as “remarkable” by his heart surgeon. Yet here he is recovering from a quadruple bypass. It took a heart attack to basically scare him into caring about his own health. A steady diet of banquet food and grabbing something to eat on the run has steadily taken its toll. As it turns out, even his attempts at eating healthy such as a roast beef sandwich instead of a burger were futile and severely misguided.

I ask you this: If firefighters cannot save themselves, how are they going to save everyone else?

Get your stress test and eat a heart healthy diet. If not for yourself, do it for all the people you might save and for your family – they deserve better than a week in a hospital waiting room (or worse).

Additional Health & Fitness Information:

» 20 minutes to a healthy heart
» Emergency Duties, Deaths from Heart Disease
» American Heart Association
» Coronary Artery Bypass Surgery