Physiology of the Wildland Firefighter: Managing Extreme Energy Demands in Hostile, Smoky, Mountainous Environments

Brent C. Ruby, Robert H. Coker, Joe Sol, John Quindry, Scott J. Montain

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Wildland firefighters (WLFFs) are inserted as the front-line defense to minimize loss of natural resources, property, and human life when fires erupt in forested regions of the world. The WLFF occupation is physically demanding as exemplified by total daily energy expenditures that can exceed 25 MJ/day (6000 calories). WLFFs must also cope with complex physical and environmental situations (i.e., heat, altitude, smoke, compromised sleep, elevated stress) which challenge thermoregulatory responses, impair recovery, and increase short-and long-term injury/health risks while presenting logistical obstacles to nutrient and fluid replenishment. The occupation also imposes emotional strain on both the firefighter and their families. The long-term implications of wildfire management and suppression on the physical and mental health of WLFFs are significant, as the frequency and intensity of wildland fire outbreaks as well as the duration of the fire season is lengthening and expected to continue to expand over the next three decades. This article details the physical demands and emerging health concerns facing WLFFs, in addition to the challenges that the U.S. Forest Service and other international agencies must address to protect the health and performance of WLFFs and their ability to endure the strain of an increasingly danger-ous work environment.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4587-4615
Number of pages29
JournalComprehensive Physiology
Volume13
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - Apr 2023

Keywords

  • Humans
  • United States
  • Smoke
  • Firefighters
  • Fires
  • Sleep

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