Management of Heat Stress in Firefighting

Presentation at Research Forum of the 2012 Bushfire CRC and AFAC Annual Conference.

Inherent risks and exposures in fire fighting cannot be completely eliminated; however, Fire Services must aim to mitigate these risks to an acceptable level. One of these risks is heat stress. The introduction of new structural Personal Protective Clothing (PPC) minimises radiant heat exposure. However, it appears the new PPC may also increase the risk for heat-related illness through elevated core body temperature. Since the introduction of the new PPC there have been 12 heat-related incidents (in 18 months). Of the 12, three cases have been treated at hospital and notified to Worksafe.

Structural PPC increases the risk of heat stress due to the enclosed environment of the ensemble and its inability to allow evaporation of sweat from the surface of the body. Fire Services cannot eliminate elevations to core body temperature during structural fire fighting; therefore rehabilitation and recovery methods to minimise and manage the risk need to be considered. A heat stress trial involving CFA volunteer firefighters was conducted to validate research findings from the US, Canada and UK that showed the value of hand and lower arm immersion as a cooling technique. In the CFA trial, fire fighters performed one cycle of 20-minute simulated fire fighting search and rescue tasks in a heated structural environment. Immediately after, fire fighters rested for 20 min with or without active cooling. The fire fighters then performed a second 20-minute search and rescue simulation. The results of this validation trial are discussed as a practical strategy for the management of heat stress in fire fighting. Implications of the results for structural fire fighting and need for future rehabilitation practices are explored.