Wildland firefighters’ respiratory health to be studied by UBC

After more than a decade of combating smoky wildfires in British Columbia, Kyler Gaulin says being on the front line has taken a toll on his body.”It’s a job we love … but I notice, at the end of the season, my lungs are definitely not nearly as strong as at the start,” the Pemberton, B.C., wildfire fighter said. “We’re working in a lot of very fine dust, a lot of smoke, a lot of ash.” In recent years devastating fires have burned in all corners of the province as thousands of firefighters inhale wildfire smoke with little protection. But new research aims to shed light on how those conditions are impacting firefighters’ respiratory health. A recruit works to contain and put out a fire near Merritt, B.C., during a training exercise. Though hard hats and other gear are standard for wildfire fighters, respiratory protection is not. (Ben Nelms/CBC)The B.C. Wildfire Service (BCWS), in collaboration with the University of British Columbia, is embarking on what they’re considering “groundbreaking” research, looking at the respiratory health of wildland firefighters.”We don’t know a lot about how their vessels are reacting or not reacting to wildfire smoke,” said Madden Brewster, postdoctoral research fellow at UBC’s Okanagan campus.  Researchers will track firefighters’ cardiorespiratory systems over the next two years collecting data before, during and after the fire season — something Brewster says “hasn’t really been done before.”Many use nothing except bandanas to cover their noses and mouths, according to occupational hygienist Drew Lichty.He says wildfire smoke contains a hazardous mixture of gases, pollutants and pieces of debris that are invisible to the naked eye.”[Some] refer to it as a toxic soup of chemicals.”Such microscopic particles — which can be narrower than a strand of human hair — can find their way into the lungs and bloodstream, Lichty says.WATCH | Researchers monitoring firefighter health through fire season: B.C. wildfire crews to be offered masks and breathing devices this yearThe B.C. Wildfire Service will offer a selection of masks and respiratory devices to its firefighters for the first time this year, as it prepares for a smoky fire season.In June 2022, the International Agency for Research on Cancer classified firefighting as a known human carcinogen, stating firefighters have a 14 per cent higher risk of dying from cancer than the general public. In Canada, more than 85 per cent of firefighter fatality claims are attributed to cancer.Even amid mounting evidence that breathing smoke can cause deadly diseases, Lichty says right now there’s little to no research into the effects of wildfire smoke on the long-term health of wildland firefighters.As the 2024 fire season begins, researchers are taking firefighters’ blood samples and carrying out lung function tests to determine baseline measurements.Wildland firefighter Emily Bennington wears a device that can sample air quality during a fire scenario. (Gian Paolo Mendoza/CBC)As the season progresses, Pemberton’s wildland firefighters will be sent out into the fray equipped with air quality monitoring devices like gas detectors, which will measure carbon monoxide and air sampling pumps to detect particulates. Gaulin, who is one of the research participants, says an in-depth look into the health of wildland firefighters is long overdue. “These studies are super important obviously … unfortunately, it’s taken a couple busy years to get recognition of how serious the wildfires are becoming,” he said.Respiratory masksAlongside UBC’s research, BCWS is implementing respiratory protection that includes multiple models of respirators capable of filtering harmful particulates and gases.Emily Bennington, a second-year initial attack firefighter, said the masks were “constrictive”.WATCH | Why wearing a mask while fighting wildfires can be tough: Researchers monitoring firefighter health through fire seasonMadden Brewster and her team from UBC Okanagan have started a two-year project where they’ll be monitoring the health and physiology of B.C. wildland firefighters over the course of a fire season.”I see the benefit of it, but I think practically, I would find it hard to work with.”BCWS senior officer Mike McCulley says finding the perfect mask for a wildland firefighter is tricky.”If you picture a firefighter fighting a structure fire in a house, they have the luxury of being able to [carry] large masks, oxygen tanks. That’s not the reality for wildland firefighters,” he said, noting that they often work in difficult terrain.”We are trying to make sure we’re using the best [equipment].” He says BCWS is procuring enough masks to outfit more than 1,600 firefighters it has employed this year, but they aren’t mandatory.WATCH | B.C. wildfire service testing respirators for firefighters: B.C. wildfire service testing respirators for firefightersOccupational hygienist Drew Lichty shows off one of three respiratory devices that will be offered to B.C. wildland firefighters this upcoming fire season.The federal government says Canada is at risk of another devastating wildfire season, after an unusually warm winter. More than 70 fires are already burning across the country, primarily in northern B.C., northern Alberta and the Northwest Territories, officials said.In the meantime, wildland firefighters Gaulin and Bennington hope the ongoing research will soon provide them with necessary insights to confront the unseen enemy threatening their heath and livelihood.”I’m definitely excited to see how my health changes over a season, and my coworkers as well,” Bennington said. “That would be very useful information to have.”

spot_img

Explore more

Why is my vagina dry during sex?

Why is my vagina dry during sex?

If you’re too embarrassed to ask your doctor (or anyone) the question:...
Inside the Factory Supplying Half of Africa’s Syringes

Inside the Factory Supplying Half of Africa’s Syringes

On the stunning Kenyan coast, about halfway between 15th-century ruins and the vibrant city of Mombasa, a small factory is helping to achieve one...

Dental SEO versus PPC: choosing the best strategy for your dental...

Shaz Memon weights up the pros and cons of dental SEO versus pay-per-click (PPC) advertising to work out which digital marketing model is best...
My Favorite Memorial Day Sales on Tablets

My Favorite Memorial Day Sales on Tablets

Today is Memorial Day, and many retailers are offering deals on laptops, TVs, headphones, Bluetooth speakers, smartphones, and tablets. If you want a new...

Superfood Mushrooms: Nature’s Secret to Radiant Beauty from the Inside Out

Imagine waking up every morning feeling energized, clear-headed, and ready to take on the world. You look in the mirror and see radiant, youthful...

GLP-1s’ direct and indirect impacts on health care and consumer goods...

Today, I spoke live with Paul Bagnell, news anchor with Bloomberg BNN,...
Reshona Jessamy on Beauty Meeting Mental Health

Reshona Jessamy on Beauty Meeting Mental Health

Reshona Jessamy shares how she wants to inspire others through skincare, emphasizing mental health. She is transparent about how the way she was treated...
green, smoothie, strawberries-2607334.jpg

Unleash The Power Of Fast 800 Keto Diet For Sustainable Weight...

Introduction: Understanding the Fast 800 Keto Approach In the quest for sustainable weight management, the Fast 800 Keto diet has emerged as a beacon of...