When Brian Demarest runs into a burning building, a familiar instinct kicks in. Fight or flight? His nervous system kicks into high gear, his muscles tense, adrenaline is released into his bloodstream, his heart rate and blood pressure skyrocket.
“You have to gather this courage and let it take over your body and mind, because when you’re under duress, you’re either going to shut down or you’re going to do your job,” he said. “Training and having that courage can push you through it. But it’s extremely stressful.”
It’s the kind of stressful that leads to heart attacks, actually. In fact, nearly half of all deaths among firefighters like Demarest are cardiac-related. That’s why on Saturday the Schenectady fire lieutenant was in Central Park, throwing the Schenectady Firefighters Run 4 Your Life 5K for the fifth year in a row. The goal? Raise awareness for heart health among fire professionals and raise money for the American Heart Association.
“It’s the leading cause of death in the fire service,” Demarest said. “The heart attack usually happens either during the fire or right after the fire. People think it’s the dangerous act of fighting fires that kills us. No. It’s people having heart attacks.”
More than 1,000 people ran the 3.1-mile course on a gray, overcast Saturday morning. Many runners were family and friends of local firefighters and the firefighters themselves, from area departments like Schenectady, Beukendaal, Amsterdam, Saratoga Springs, Albany and Troy.
The very first Run 4 Your Life event started with just 260 runners and 40 children partaking in a Kid’s Run. Now in its fifth year, the event drew nearly 11,000 runners between preregistration and people who showed up the day of the race, Demarest said.
The goal is to raise $10,000 this year for the American Heart Association, he said. Over the last four years, the event has raised a total $33,000.
“My job is to promote that there’s some flaws with the mindset that we’re all tough and healthy,” he said. “We need to be aware of this, especially as you get into your 40s and 50s.”
Different this year was a small-scale Chowderfest held in the Central Park Pavilion, with chowder samples from local restaurants like Manhattan Exchange, BL’s Tavern, The City Squire and Pinhead Susan’s. The 5K has always had soup for the runners after they finish. But Demarest, a big chowder fan, wanted to up the ante this year and have runners taste and vote for their favorite chowder.
Another first this year was live music after the race from local bands Summer of Doug and Local 11.