Research report details relationship between heat stress, firefighter fatalities

A new report has just been released that details the role heat stress and firefighter’s personal protection equipment (PPE) plays in causing injuries and fatalities of firefighters. The research was conducted by the Firefighter Life Safety Research Center (FLSRC) and the University of Illinois Fire Service Institute (IFSI) with a grant from the Fire Safety and Prevention Program of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

“Firefighter Fatalities and Injuries: the Role of Heat Stress and PPE” is the result of a year’s research conducted under the leadership of Dr. Denise Smith and Dr. Gavin Horn, Research Program Manager with the FLSRC. “It is well known throughout the Fire Service that the leading cause of firefighter fatalities is heart attack and that a leading cause of injuries is a result of slip, trips and falls,” Horn said. “This research project looked into the relationships between PPE, heat stress, cardiovascular function and biomechanics.”

Some key findings in the report include:


  • After only 18 minutes of firefighting activity, there was a significant increase in blood clotting potential.

  • Nearly 65 percent of the 122 study participants were pre-hypertensive or hypertensive, even though the average age of participants was 30 years.

  • Simple donning of PPE resulted in significant changes in firefighter balance and gait.

The 74-page report is available by contacting Sue Blevins with FLSRC at 217-265-6564 or by downloading a copy from the IFSI Web site at www.fsi.uiuc.edu.

This research is being followed up with an additional grant that will provide a more detailed investigation of cardiovascular changes associated with fire fighting activities. For more information on research at the FLSRC and IFSI, contact Dr. Gavin Horn at 217-265-6563.

The Illinois Fire Service Institute is the statutory fire academy for the state of Illinois. In addition to training provided at the Champaign campus, the Institute offers online classes and conducts training throughout the state at Regional Training Centers and local fire stations. The mission of the Illinois Fire Service Institute is to help firefighters do their work through training, education, information and research.

For more information about the Institute, call 217-333-8921.

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