Assessing the Cardiovascular and Chemical Risks Faced by Firefighters

This two-part study investigates how modern fire and training environments contribute to long-term firefighter health concerns.

 

Advancing our understanding of two leading occupational hazards of firefighting

Sudden cardiac events and carcinogen-related cancers are among the most pressing firefighter health concerns. However, relatively little fire safety information exists on the effects of cumulative exposures that firefighters face while working on the modern fireground and participating in training exercises.

This study’s team is rigorously analyzing and synthesizing existing data on fireground exposures, recovery timelines and the effectiveness of on-scene Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and skin decontamination.

In addition, the team is investigating cardiovascular and carcinogenic exposure during training fire scenarios. They are specifically focused on fuels commonly used during firefighter training- such as Oriented Strand Board (OSB) and theatrical smoke- to determine whether instructors and students are needlessly exposed to unacceptable risks that would prompt firefighter health concerns.

Getting meaningful results from realistic conditions

For the component of the study focusing on the modern fire environment, researchers constructed a realistic modern structure—accurate down to the interior finishes, fuel loads and features. Twelve-member crews then fought fires in the structure. Safety systems and hardened construction techniques were incorporated to ensure participants’ safety.

The team also recreated several realistic firefighter safety training scenarios, including pallets and straw in a concrete building, pallets and OSB in a steel container system and theatrical smoke and simulated fire in a training prop. Four-member crews participating in three different evolutions, and five-member instructor cadres participated in six evolutions.

During this fire safety study, four key measurements were tracked:

  • The production and transfer of thermal energy, as well as the magnitude and composition of gases and particles in the fire environment
  • Contamination of firefighters’ PPE and skin
  • Absorption of that contamination into the firefighters’ bodies, and 
  • How these variables were influenced by tactical decisions (interior only vs. transitional attack) and operating locations (interior fire suppression exterior operations vs. interior overhaul)

Researchers also examined cardiovascular responses to firefighting and to specific firefighting tactics and operating location by assessing electrocardiogram responses, blood chemistry and coagulatory measures and vascular responses during and up to 12 hours following firefighting.

 

Cardiovascular and Carcinogenic Strain on Firefighters (short) from the UL Firefighter Safety Research Institute (UL FSRI) on Vimeo.

Relevant Resources

RESOURCE #1: Assessing the Cardiovascular and Chemical Risks Faced by Firefighter on ULfirefightersafety.org

RESOURCE #2: Cardiovascular and Chemical Exposure Risks in Today's Training Ground on FSI.illinois.edu

RESOURCE #3: Protection from Chemical, Thermal, and Cardiovascular Risks: Impact of PPE Laundering and Hood Design

RESOURCE #4: 10 Considerations Related to Cardiovascular and Chemical Risks

Fast Facts

  • The study combines results from a research project on fire training risks and a related investigation into the risks of modern firefighting.
  • It synthesizes existing data on fireground exposures, recovery timelines and the effectiveness of on-scene Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and skin decontamination.