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Acute respiratory effects of smoke exposure in wildland firefighters.

Gaughan-DM; Cox-Ganser-JM; Enright-PL; Jensen-KR; Wagner-GR; Radtke-TM; Kreiss-K
Proc Am Thorac Soc 2005 May; 2(Abstracts):A420
Respiratory problems are estimated to affect 5% to 10% of wildland firefighters. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health assessed the acute respiratory effects of smoke exposure in 20 members of a National Park Service Interagency "Hotshot" Crew from Colorado. We collected questionnaire and spirometry data during the crew's preseason training session in May and for 10 days during a wildfire in Alaska in July 2004. Eighteen individuals participated in both assessments. The cohort was comprised of primarily white males (85%). The median age was 27 years and the median time spent as a firefighter was 3 years. At the preseason assessment, 7 participants reported a history of asthma (4 current). Of these, 3 (75%), were diagnosed after becoming a firefighter. All 7 had normal spirometry but, three were taking asthma medication. Two prevalent cases of abnormal spirometry were observed among participants with no history of respiratory disease: one participant had borderline obstruction (88% predicted FEV1, and 112% predicted FVC) and another had mild restriction (75% predicted FVC and 87% predicted FEV1). For all 18 firefighters, the mean preseason FEV1 was 4.5L. At the wildfire, the mean FEV1 fell 4% to 4.3L, a mean 0.24L decline (95% CI, 0.18L - 0.33L; P <0.001) The mean cross-shift change in FEV1 was a 2% (0.08L) decline (95% CI, 0.05L - 0.12L; P <0.001). The prevalence of moderate or severe nasal and sinus irritation was increased at the wildfire compared with preseason values (p=<0.05). Wildland firefighters are at risk for acute respiratory abnormalities. Participants should be re-tested prior to the next wildfire season to see if they regain the previous year's age-adjusted pulmonary function level.
Fire-fighters; Fire-fighting; Occupational-exposure; Smoke-inhalation; Respiratory-system-disorders; Questionnaires; Spirometry; Exposure-assessment; Demographic-characteristics; Age-factors; Sex-factors; Racial-factors; Bronchial-asthma; Risk-factors; Risk-analysis; Acute-exposure; Pulmonary-function; Pulmonary-function-tests
Publication Date
Document Type
Abstract; Conference/Symposia Proceedings
Fiscal Year
Issue of Publication
NIOSH Division
Priority Area
Disease and Injury: Asthma and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease
Source Name
Proceedings of the American Thoracic Society. 2005 ATS International Conference, May 20-25, 2005, San Diego, California
Page last reviewed: September 2, 2020
Content source: National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health Education and Information Division