Evaluation of Environmental Conditions on Self-Selected Work and Heat Stress in Wildland Firefighting

Joseph A. Sol, Molly R. West, Joseph W. Domitrovich, Brent C. Ruby

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Introduction: The purpose of this study was to evaluate heat stress occurring in wildfire management activities with variable environmental conditions. Methods: Direct observation and real-time wireless physiological monitoring allowed for weather and physiological metrics, including heart rate, core temperature (Tc), skin temperature, and physiological strain index (PSI), of male (n=193) and female (n=28) wildland firefighters (WLFFs) to be recorded during wildfire management activities. Accelerometry data were used to categorize intensity level of activity. Results: Ambient temperature and relative humidity values were used to compute the heat index (HI; n=3891 h) and divided into quartiles (Q1: 13.3–25.1°C; Q2: 25.2–26.4°C; Q3: 26.5–28.9°C; Q4: 29.0–49.1°C). Activity levels remained relatively constant across all HI quartiles. The percentage of time spent performing moderate/vigorous activities was lowest during the hotter Q4 (Q1: 3%; Q2: 2%; Q3: 2%; Q4: 1%). Heart rate, Tc, PSI, and skin temperature associations with HI varied by resource type. Sixty-one percent of WLFFs (n=134) experienced a Tc ≥38.0°C, and 50% of WLFFs (n=111) experienced a PSI ≥6.0. Conclusions: Heat stress was prevalent as WLFFs performed job tasks of varying intensities in all ambient conditions. Spontaneous bouts of arduous labor, duration of work shifts, and other occupation characteristics present the possibility for substantial durations of hyperthermia, although no heat-related injuries occurred in this study. Despite chronic exposure to rugged sloped terrain, load carriage, and environmental conditions, self-regulation and individual attention to managing work:rest appears to be the primary management strategy in mitigating excessive accumulation of body heat in this occupation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)149-159
Number of pages11
JournalWilderness and Environmental Medicine
Volume32
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - Jun 2021

Keywords

  • hyperthermia
  • physiological strain

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