Sudden cardiac deaths (SCDs) have accounted for nearly half of the line-of-duty deaths among US firefighters over the past 10 years. In 2018, 33% of all SCDs occurred after the end of a fire service call. Researchers have suggested that an imbalance in autonomic nervous system (ANS) regulation of heart rate postcall may interfere with recovery in firefighters.


To use heart-rate recovery (HRR) and heart-rate variability (HRV), 2 noninvasive markers of ANS function, to examine the ANS recovery profiles of firefighters.


Cross-sectional study.


Firehouse and research laboratory.

Patients or Other Participants

Thirty-seven male career active-duty firefighters (age = 39 ± 9 years, height = 178.8 ± 5.4 cm, mass = 87.9 ± 11.2 kg).

Main Outcome Measure(s)

Percentage of maximal HR (%MHR) and HRV (natural log of the square root of the mean sum of the squared differences [lnRMSSD]) were collected after both submaximal and maximal exercise protocols during a 10-minute seated recovery. The HRR profiles were examined by calculating the asymptote, amplitude, and decay parameters of the monoexponential HRR curve for each participant.


Differences in HRR parameters after 10 minutes of seated recovery were identified after submaximal versus maximal exercise (P < .001). In addition, although ANS was more suppressed after maximal exercise, HRV indicated incomplete recovery, and regardless of the test, recovery %MHR and lnRMSSD values did not return to pretest %MHR and lnRMSSD values.


Our results suggest that the ANS contributions to recovery in active-duty firefighters are exercise-intensity specific, and this is likely an important factor when establishing best-practice recovery guidelines.

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