Every year, hundreds of thousands of acres of land burn across the United States and wildland fire fighters (WFFs) are asked to protect our lives, our homes, and our forests. But fires are unpredictable and dangerous. Between 2000-2016, based on data compiled in the NIOSH Wildland Fire Fighter On-Duty Death Surveillance System from three data sources, over 350 on-duty WFF fatalities occurred. 1,2,3 Common hazards faced on the fire line can include burnovers/entrapments, heat-related illnesses and injuries, smoke inhalation, vehicle-related injuries (including aircraft), slips, trips, and falls, and others.4 In addition, due to prolonged intense physical exertion, WFFs are at risk for sudden cardiac deaths, and rhabdomyolsis.
NIOSH offers resources for fire departments, fire fighters, and partner organizations to prevent on-duty injuries, illnesses, and deaths from hazards and exposures associated with fighting wildfires.
CDC and NIOSH also provide resources for responders in conducting rescue and clean-up activities.
Rhabdomyolysis in Wildland Fire Fighters
What Wildland Fire Fighters Need to Know about Rhabdomyolysis
Rhabdomyolysis (often called rhabdo) is the breakdown of damaged muscle tissue that releases proteins and electrolytes into the blood. These things can damage the heart and kidneys, result in permanent disability, and can even be fatal! Rhabdomyolysis can be caused by exertion and becoming overheated. Early treatment can prevent serious medical problems. Because exertion in a hot environment is such a fundamental part of the job, fire fighters need to know the signs and symptoms of rhabdo to be able to quickly recognize the potential danger and get medical attention right away if they are not feeling well.
Rhabdomyolysis in Wildland Fire Fighters: A Patient Population at Risk
Wildland fire fighting involves exposure to heat and prolonged, intense exertion. These factors increase the risk for rhabdomyolysis. Healthcare providers can prevent debilitating consequences. Be alert to wildland fire fighters reporting rhabdomyolysis signs and symptoms. Have a low threshold to check serial serum creatine phosphokinase (CK) in wildland fire fighter.
Learn how wildland fire fighters can stay safe and healthy at work:
- Federal Emergency Management Agency, Fire Administration (US).  Fire Fighter Fatalities in the United Statesexternal icon. Date accessed: January, 2017.
- National Wildfire Coordinating Group, Risk Management Committee.  Safety Gram Archiveexternal icon. Date Accessed January, 2017.
- National Fire Protection Association (US).  Fatalities and Injuriesexternal icon. Date accessed: January, 2017.
- Britton C, et al., Epidemiology of injuries to wildland firefightersexternal icon. Am J Emerg Med. 2013 Feb; 31(2):339-45. [Epub 2012 Nov 15].