Seasonal heat acclimatization in wildland firefighters

Brianna Lui, John S. Cuddy, Walter S. Hailes, Brent C. Ruby

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

The purpose of this study was to determine changes in physiological markers of heat acclimatization across a 4-month wildland fire season. Wildland firefighters (WLFF) (n=12) and non-WLFF (n=14) were assessed pre- and post-season for body mass, percent body fat, and peak V.O2. Both groups completed a 60-min heat stress trial (walking at 50% of peak V.O2) in a climate controlled chamber (43.3°C, 33% RH) pre and post-fire season (May through September). During the trials, core (Tc) and skin (Tsk) temperatures, heart rate (HR), physiological strain index (PSI), and rating of perceived exertion (RPE) were measured. There were no differences pre or post-season between the WLFF and non-WLFF groups in body mass, percent body fat, or peak V.O2. During the 73 days where the WLFF were involved in direct wildland fire suppression, daily high temperature for the WLFF was higher compared to the non-WLFF, 30.6 ± 5.4°C and 26.9 ± 6.1°C, respectively, p<0.05. Tc was lower at post-season compared to pre-season (p<0.05) for the WLFF at 30, 45, and 60min (pre 30, 45, and 60: 37.9 ± 0.3, 38.3 ± 0.3 and 38.5 ± 0.3 °C, respectively; post 30, 45, and 60: 37.8 ± 0.3, 38.1 ± 0.3 and 38.2 ± 0.4°C, respectively). For WLFF, PSI was lower (p<0.05) at 15, 30, 45, and 60min at post-season compared to pre-season (4.2 ± 0.7, 5.6 ± 0.9, 6.5 ± 0.9, and 7.1 ± 1.1 for 15, 30, 45, and 60min pre-season, respectively; 3.6 ± 0.8, 4.9 ± 1.0, 5.7 ± 1.2, 6.3 ± 1.3 for 15, 30, 45, and 60min post-season, respectively). For WLFF, RPE was lower during the post-season trial at 30, 45, and 60min (pre 30, 45, and 60: 11.7 ± 1.4, 12.3 ± 1.2, and 13.5 ± 1.4, respectively; post 30, 45, and 60: 10.7 ± 1.2, 11.3 ± 1.3, and 11.9 ± 1.5, respectively), p<0.05. There were no differences between pre and post-season for the non-WLFF for Tc and PSI, but RPE was lower at 15min during the pre-season trial. WLFFs demonstrated significant decreases in Tc, PSI, and RPE during controlled heat stress after the season. Since an age and fitness-matched control group experienced no indication of heat acclimatization, it is suggested that the long-term occupational heat exposure accrued by the WLFFs was adequate to incur heat acclimatization.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)134-140
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Thermal Biology
Volume45
DOIs
StatePublished - Oct 1 2014

Keywords

  • Heat injury
  • Heat stress
  • Heat-related illness
  • Physiological strain index

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