IFSI Research Supplement: Introducing the 10 Considerations Related to Cardiovascular and Chemical Exposure Risks

Sept. 1, 2017
Research highlights the health impacts of fireground activities and exposure.

Download the full PDF of the supplement here.

Also, view the 10 Considerations Related to Cardiovascular & Chemical Exposure Risks supplement via Firehouse’s proprietary digital platform Clarity, which includes additional content and videos, here.

Significant advances have been made in our understanding of the hazards associated with structural firefighting, and the fire service has been provided with important tactical guidance that may increase firefighter effectiveness while decreasing risk. Substantial evidence suggests that firefighting leads to significant cardiovascular strain, and it is widely reported that firefighters also have an increased risk of developing certain job-related cancers.

Important questions remain: What is the physiological and chemical impact from the various exposures experienced by firefighters employing differing tactics and working in different job assignments on the fireground? How do firefighting operations affect occupant exposure risks? How do factors related to firefighting affect heat stress and cardiovascular responses under the realistic fire environments we face in today’s structures? What is the path that toxic combustion products take to get into a firefighter’s body? And, importantly, how effective are PPE and skin decon procedures?

Our research team—from the Illinois Fire Service Institute (IFSI), the UL Firefighter Safety Research Institute (FSRI), the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), with support from Globe and academic researchers from Skidmore College and University of Illinois Chicago—sought to answer these questions.

Thanks to funding from the Department of Homeland Security’s Fire Prevention & Safety Grant program, along with additional support from the CDC Foundation and the National Toxicology Program, we conducted a large-scale, comprehensive study to better understand how operating in an environment typical of today’s fireground impacts cardiovascular events and chemical exposures related to carcinogenic risk.

In order to safely and reliably conduct “typical” firefighting operations and tactics with multi-person crews, we designed and built a structure that had all of the interior finishes, fuel loads, typical furnishings, and features common in the 21st century, yet contained safety systems, and hardened construction techniques that ensured our participants’ safety.

During this study, we measured:

  • The production of heat, gases and particulates in the fire environment;
  • Contamination of firefighters’ PPE and skin;
  • Absorption of that contamination into the firefighters’ bodies;
  • Heat stress and cardiovascular responses;
  • How these variables were influenced by tactical decisions (interior only vs. transitional attack), operating location (inside fire suppression/search vs. outside command/vent vs. overhaul); and
  • The effectiveness of mitigation techniques (skin cleaning, gross decon, off-gassing).

The following content details 10 key considerations based on our findings, broken into three categories: Tactical Considerations Related to Occupant Exposure, Exposure Considerations for Outside and Overhaul Operations, and Cleaning and Decontamination Considerations after the Fire. And to provide a national perspective, we are honored to include the voices of fire service leaders describing common hurdles in the pursuit of behavioral changes related to these topics.

—Gavin Horn, Stephen Kerber, Kenneth Fent and Denise Smith

More from the Supplement:

About the Author

Stephen Kerber

Stephen Kerber is the director of the UL Firefighter Safety Research Institute (FSRI). He has led fire service research and education in the areas of ventilation, structural collapse and fire dynamics.

About the Author

Dr. Denise Smith

Dr. Denise Smith is a professor at Skidmore College and a research scientist at the Illinois Fire Service Institute (IFSI). She conducts research on the heat stress and cardiovascular strain associated with firefighting, pathoanatomic cause of firefighter fatalities, and strategies to increase performance and decrease cardiovascular events in the fire service.

About the Author

Dr. Kenneth Fent

Dr. Kenneth Fent is a research industrial hygienist at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). Much of his research has focused on characterizing firefighters’ exposures to chemical agents, including carcinogens, and evaluating the effectiveness of practices intended to reduce exposures. 

Voice Your Opinion!

To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of Firehouse, create an account today!