Madison Fire Department may change after firefighter's death

MADISON — The Madison Fire Department may make changes to its health programs and policies as federal officials plan to investigate the death of one of the department's members.

Firefighter and paramedic Richard Garner, 29, died earlier this year of a heart attack after a 48-hour shift, the Wisconsin State Journal reported .

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health will likely come to Madison within the next few months to begin investigating Garner's death as part of a national review of unexplained deaths of young firefighters, said Madison Fire Chief Steven Davis.

"In talking to the doctors at NIOSH, what they've found is there's been six or seven fatalities in fire departments across the country in about a six-month period that were identical to (Garner's), where a firefighter ... came home from work" and died, Davis said.

The fire department is looking into ways it can prevent job-related health problems or deaths. Changes could potentially come to the department's wellness programs, fitness testing policies and shift scheduling.

Madison firefighters typically operate on 24-hour shifts, but can sometimes work longer hours to cover for a colleague, Davis said. The department may make changes to emphasize the need for rest and quality sleep, he said.

The department is also studying its fitness and job performance evaluations, Davis said.

"We want to ensure that those evaluations do what we think they do," he said.

Davis said the department hasn't found a link between Garner's death and his shift.

"It's a pretty neutral ruling," he said. "He had a heart attack and we really just, we don't know why."

Davis said he doesn't believe the city or department are liable in the death.