Respiratory Health of Fire Fighters

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Health and Safety
TitleRespiratory Health of Fire Fighters
Publication TypeReport
Year of Publication2006
AuthorsDe Vos, AJBM, Cook, A, Devine, B, Thompson, PJ, Weinstein, P
Date PublishedAugust 2006
AbstractThe basis for the research was to assess the effectiveness of protective filters, at the request of Fire and Emergency Services Authority (FESA) of Western Australia. The FESA career fire fighters have - over the years - expressed their concern about the respiratory health effects from inhalation of bushfire smoke compounds, and the effectiveness of the protective filters on their masks. The protective filters issued to the FESA career fire fighters are the particulate filters, which are designed to be used against both mechanically and thermally generated particulates. There is evidence available that the presence of toxic compounds, e.g. formaldehyde, acrolein, and carbon monoxide, in bushfire smoke may pose occupational risks for fire fighters. In particular, acute and chronic lung function impairment after exposure to bushfire smoke in the United States and Europe has been documented in the literature. The study involved six controlled bushfire smoke exposure trials in a smoke chamber, followed by four validation trials in the field during prescribed burns. A total of 131 FESA career fire fighters participated in these study trials. Thirty-seven particulate filters, 50 particulate/organic vapour filters, and 44 particulate/organic vapour/formaldehyde filters were tested and compared. Respiratory health symptoms were assessed by a self-completed respiratory health questionnaire, FEV1 and SaO2 measurements. In addition, personal air sampling inside the masks was conducted with each of the different filter types tested. The results indicate that the particulate/organic vapour/formaldehyde filter provides clinically and statistically significant better protection for fire fighters’ airways while fighting bushfires. Further research is needed to determine the breakthrough times of the filters and the effectiveness of the filters over longer periods, such as a work shift or a bushfire season.