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West Fargo Police, Fire Departments partner with Essentia Health for enhanced cardio screening program

This program is the first of its kind in North Dakota.

The West Fargo Police and Fire Departments have partnered with Essentia Health to develop an enhanced cardiac screening program for all its officers and firefighters.

Police Chief Denis Otterness says the program was inspired after two incidents last year.

"As you recall, we had an officer die in the line of duty last May, and we had a second significant cardiac event on Halloween, basically the overnight hours from October 30 to the 31st. And in looking back, we found out that both of the officers had recently been in for cardiac screenings, and some signs were missed and we felt we could do a better job and come up with a better program."

Otterness says the program is designed to help prevent these tragedies and ensure the overall wellness of officers on duty. It is the first of its kind in North Dakota.

"We were really startled to find some of the statistics we found out; that you know, the average age of a police officer that suffers a heart attack is 49 years old, as opposed to 67 for the general public. Police officers are 25 times more likely to die from a cardiac event or stroke than to die in the line of duty."

Likewise, cardiac fatalities represent 50 percent of on-duty deaths in firefighters.

Otterness says the enhanced screening with Essentia Health will include a sum-maximal fitness test, advanced lipid panel, heart CT scan, calcium score and ultrasound. If anything of concern is found, each officer will be given personalized plans according to their own risk factors.

Otterness says the program is available immediately, and he will be the first to undergo the screening. He says he is grateful the City of West Fargo has offered to pay for the initial screenings, as he sees it as an investment into the health and wellness of his officers.