FIGHTING WILDFIRES

Wildland Firefighter conducts back burn of dry grass to deny additional fuel sources in the event of a wildfire. Image provided by US Forest Service Technology and Development Program.

Wildland Firefighter conducts back burn of dry grass to deny additional fuel sources in the event of a wildfire. Image provided by US Forest Service Technology and Development Program.


Publications and Resources

The following is a chronological list of NIOSH-published and NIOSH-authored publications on wildland fire fighting safety. You will also find relevant documents from external organizations as well. Most documents are available for download in PDF format. You can also search for NIOSH wildland fire fighting safety publications in the NIOSHTIC-2 database.


NIOSH Publications

NIOSH Wildland Firefighter Safety and Health Blog
Wildland firefighting can be a dangerous occupation. The men and women fighting these fires face many hazards. Read more on the NIOSH Science Blog.

Arterial stiffness, oxidative stress, and smoke exposure in wildland firefighters.
An assessment of the association between exposure, oxidative stress symptoms, and cardiorespiratory function in wildland firefighters. Biomarkers of oxidative stress may serve as indicators of arterial stiffness in wildland firefighters.

Exposures and cross-shift lung function declines in wildland firefighters.
An Interagency Hotshot Crew was studied during a large wildfire to characterize wildland firefighting occupational exposures and assess their associations with cross shift changes in lung function.

Acute upper and lower respiratory effects in wildland firefighters.
This study examined acute respiratory effects experienced by wildland firefighters by assessing respiratory symptoms through questionnaires, lung function by spirometry, and measuring markers of inflammation in sputum and nasal lavage fluid.

Where occupation and environment overlap: US Forest Service worker exposure to Libby Amphibole fibers.external icon
NIOSH evaluated exposures to asbestiform amphibole, known as Libby Amphibole (LA), to personnel from the US Department of Agriculture-Forest Service (USFS) working in the Kootenai National Forest near a former vermiculite mine close to Libby, Montana. This article describes the application of EPA methods for assessing cancer risks to NIOSH sampling results.

What Wildland Firefighters Need to Know about Rhabdomyolysis
NIOSH Publication No. 2018-131 (May 2018)
Rhabdomyolysis (often called rhabdo) is the breakdown of damaged muscle tissue that releases proteins and electrolytes into the blood. Early treatment can prevent serious medical problems.

Rhabdomyolysis in Wildland Firefighters: A Patient Population at Risk
NIOSH Publication No. 2018-132 (May 2018)
Wildland firefighting involves exposure to heat and prolonged, intense exertion. These factors increase the risk of rhabdomyolysis. Healthcare providers can prevent debilitating consequences.

Preventing Heat-related Illness or Death of Outdoor Workers
NIOSH Publication No. 2013-143 (May 2013)
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recommends that employers have a plan in place to prevent heat-related illness. The plan should include hydration (drinking plenty of water), acclimatization (getting used to weather conditions), and schedules that alternate work with rest. Employers should also train workers about the hazards of working in hot environments.

Wildland Firefighter Deaths in the United States: A Comparison of Existing Surveillance Systems.external icon
Multiple agencies publish fatality summaries for wildland firefighters; however, the reported number and types vary. Data within five surveillance systems were examined to better understand the types of wildland firefighter data collected, to assess each system’s utility in characterizing wildland firefighter fatalities, and to determine each system’s potential to inform prevention strategies.

Arduous Duty: Using Three Data Sources to Create a Single Wildland Firefighter On-Duty Death Surveillance System.
Wildland firefighter-specific fatality data are often sparse or combined with information on all U.S. firefighter deaths, as a result, NIOSH researchers created a surveillance system to track wildland firefighter fatalities in the U.S. Read more on the NIOSH Science Blog.

Aviation-Related Wildland Firefighter Fatalities — United States, 2000–2013.
During 2000–2013, 78 wildland firefighters were fatally injured while participating in wildland fire duties involving aircraft. Although the number of wildland firefighter deaths due to aviation-related incidents have decreased in recent years, the study showed working with and around aircraft is still one of the highest risk activities for firefighters.

Preventing Death and Injuries of Firefighters Operating Modified Excess/Surplus Vehicles.
NIOSH Publication No. 2011-125 (December 2010)
Firefighters may be at risk for crash-related injuries while operating excess and other surplus vehicles that have been modified for fire service use. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has summarized recommendations to prevent injuries and deaths while operating these vehicles.
En Español

Preventing Firefighter Fatalities Due to Heart Attacks and Other Sudden Cardiovascular Events.
NIOSH Publication No. 2007-133 (June 2007)
NIOSH recommends that fire departments and firefighters follow established medical screening guidelines, adopt risk reduction measures during fire fighting operations, and develop and participate in comprehensive wellness/fitness programs.
En Español

Hazard ID: Firefighters Exposed to Electrical Hazards During Wildland Fire Operations.
NIOSH Publication No. 2002-112 (January 2002)
NIOSH investigated two separate incidents in 1999 in which firefighters died or were seriously injured from exposures to electricity while fighting wildland fires.
En Español

Hazard ID: Traffic Hazards to Firefighters While Working Along Roadways.
NIOSH Publication No. 2001-143 (June 2001)
The number of firefighters struck and killed by motor vehicles has dramatically increased within recent years. This document details case studies and provides recommendations for prevention.
En Español

Noise Exposure Among Federal Wildland Fire Fightersexternal icon
Wildland firefighters use many tools and equipment that produce noise levels that may be considered hazardous to hearing. This study evaluated 174 personal dosimetry measurements on 156 wildland firefighters conducting various training and fire suppression tasks. Noise exposures often exceeded occupational exposure limits and suggest that wildland firefighters may be at risk of developing noise-induced hearing loss, particularly those operating chainsaws, chippers, and masticators.

Promoting Hearing Health among Fire Fighters
NIOSH Publication No. 2013-142 (May 2013)
Provides recommendations to promote better hearing health through the use of quieter equipment, better work practices, hearing protection devices, and implementation of effective hearing loss prevention programs.

Noise Exposure Among Federal Wildland Fire Fighters Blog
Wildland firefighters may be considered at risk of noise-induced hearing loss. To prevent firefighters from developing a hearing impairment, NIOSH recommends that all wildland firefighters be enrolled in a hearing conservation program and that fire agencies establish and maintain fire service-specific hearing loss prevention programs. Read more on the NIOSH Science Blog.

Wildland Fire Smoke: A Guide for Public Health Officials
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This guide is designed to help local public health officials prepare for smoke events, to take measures to protect the public when smoke is present, and to communicate with the public about wildfire smoke and health.

Worker Safety During Fire Cleanup
CDC Fact Sheet details types of hazards that workers may face during fire clean up efforts, including electrical hazards, carbon monoxide poisoning, musculoskeletal hazards, heat stress, hazardous materials, & confined spaces.

Joint Fire Science Program – Wildland Fire Smoke Health Effects on Wildland Firefighters and the Publicpdf iconexternal icon.
Final report details a comprehensive literature review and an extensive smoke exposure concentration dataset for wildland firefighters to estimate health risks specific for wildfire smoke.

CDC Wildfires Information
More and more people make their homes in areas that are prone to wildfires. This webpage provides information about how to protect yourself and your family from a wildfire, evacuate safely during a wildfire, and how to stay healthy when you return home.

Stop, Think, and Talk, before Acting: United States Forest Service Video
The Forest Service continues on a journey to build safe, rewarding, and resilient workplaces for all employees. Life-Work dialogues build upon their sincere commitment to continually improve employee well-being and success. Watch the video to see photos of NIOSH researchers on the fireline and see what it is all about.

Rhabdomyolysis: What Wildland Fire Fighters Need To Knowpdf iconexternal icon
Wildland firefighters are at increased risk for rhabdomyolysis. This document defines rhabdomyolysis, identifies the sign and symptoms and what to do if a firefighter has symptoms.

Page last reviewed: November 5, 2019, 08:10 AM