Tex-Mex Meal Makeovers for the San Antonio Firefighters

By S. Kirk Walsh, "Firehouse Makeover," January/February 2012

The hidden killer in the San Antonio fire department was heart disease. Here’s how they fought it and how you can too.

With the dangerous nature of their work you might guess that smoke inhalation or other fire-related trauma would be the leading cause of death among firemen. However the number-one culprit is heart attack, according to a recent study by the U.S. Fire Administration. Both the stress and the physical exertion of the job plus the typical fireman’s diet figure into the equation. Although firefighters are known as cooks, when they’re busy they often opt for the convenience of fast food. And when they cook group meals at the station it’s typically not broccoli and boneless chicken breast. Instead it’s dishes like chicken-fried steak, barbecued brisket or enchiladas: foods that aren’t helping them stay conditioned to perform their extremely physical jobs.

That’s where Maria Worley, R.D., L.D., comes in. About a year ago San Antonio fire chief, Charles Hood responded to a national initiative to reduce firefighter fatalities from heart attack and stroke. He decided to implement a wellness program and hired Worley, a retired U.S. Army dietitian and colonel, to lead the nutrition component. The new program requires its 1,650 uniformed staff members to get physical exams and, when needed, nutritional counseling to address health issues.

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