The Stress of Firefighting: Implications for Long-term Health Outcomes

Fire and rescue staff routinely endure significant psychological and environmental stress exposure on the job. While much has been done to improve understanding of the physiological effects of exposure to these conditions, little has been done to quantify the inflammatory stress response that firefighters are exposed to during wildfire suppression. Therefore the aim of the present study was to explore whether firefighters experienced a change in inflammatory markers following one day, and across two days of wildfire suppression tasks. Twelve male fire-fighters participated in two consecutive days of live-fire prescribed burn operations in Ngarkat National Park, South Australia. Typical work tasks included lighting burns, patrolling containment lines, supressing spot fires, and operating vehicles. A number of the inflammatory markers changed significantly across the course of a shift and several presented with an attenuated response across the second day. This finding implies that there was a compounding effect of repeated exposure to these stressors which could have considerable implications for managing fire-fighters health and wellbeing over a multi-day campaign. Further research is required to see which fire ground stressor, or combination of stressors is causing these changes in the inflammatory markers across consecutive work shifts.

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