FIGHTING WILDFIRES

NIOSH researchers observe firefighting activities as part of the 2018-2020 Wildland Firefighter Exposure and Health Effects (WFFEHE) study.

NIOSH researchers observe firefighting activities as part of the 2018-2020 Wildland Firefighter Exposure and Health Effects (WFFEHE) study. Image by NIOSH.


Wildland Firefighter Exposure and Health Effects Study

NIOSH in partnership with the United States Forest Service (USFS) and the United States Department of the Interior (DOI), started the Wildland Firefighter Exposure and Health Effects (WFFEHE) study in the spring of 2018. Over 50 researchers from NIOSH and the USFS are following a group of federally-employed wildland firefighters (WFFs) over three fire seasons. The purpose of this study is to better understand the potential chemical and physical hazards associated with wildland firefighting and how these exposures affect WFFs’ health, especially after multiple fire seasons. We are interested in the effects on the WFFs’:

  • lungs,
  • heart,
  • kidneys, and
  • hearing.

Why are we conducting this study?

We are conducting this study because we do not have a clear understanding of the potential health effects from exposures to WFFs throughout multiple wildfire seasons.

Who is participating?

Study participants volunteered from wildland fire crews from the USFS and the DOI, National Park Service. During the 2018 and 2019 fire season, over 150 WFFs from six fire crews volunteered to participate in the study.

What do the study participants do?

Pre-season and post-season

Each year, researchers will interact with WFF study participants from all six crews at pre-season and post-season. Pre-season testing occurs as close to each crew’s official start date as possible (April/May each year), and post-season testing occurs as close to each crew’s official end date as possible (September/October each year). At each pre-season and post-season interaction we will ask each participant to volunteer to:

  • fill out questionnaires about their work and health history and health behaviors,
  • have their height and weight measured,
  • have their blood drawn to measure cardiovascular, kidney, and inflammatory markers,
  • participate in lung function tests,
  • participate in hearing tests, and
  • participate in non-invasive cardiovascular measures.

Mid-season

Each year, researchers will follow one firefighting crew during a mid-season live fire to better understand firefighters’ health and exposures during this critical period. In addition to all the tests above, we will also ask study participants from this crew to:

  • give urine at pre-, mid-, and post-season to measure their biological uptake of combustion products,
  • wear air sampling devices during their mid-season workshift to measure their inhalation exposure to combustion products, and
  • allow NIOSH researchers to follow and observe them during their mid-season workshift.

When will the study results be released?

The purpose of this study is to evaluate a variety of health measures and exposures among WFFs over three consecutive fire seasons. In October 2019, researchers will complete data collection for the second fire season. NIOSH will analyze data and begin publishing results after the study is completed in late 2020.

As information becomes available, we will update this webpage. For now, watch this video about the project published by Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Centerexternal icon.

Page last reviewed: October 25, 2019, 08:10 AM