Veteran Firefighters Have ‘Enhanced Protection’ Against Heat Stress
January 9, 2014

Veteran Firefighters Have ‘Enhanced Protection’ Against Heat Stress

Lee Rannals for - Your Universe Online

Veteran firefighters are more adjusted to high-heat than their non-firefighting counterparts, according to a new study published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene.

Researchers examined a group of older, physically active firefighters to determine that they actually could be more heat resilient than those who may  not ever have fought a fire.

The study included physically active non-firefighters and firefighters of an average age of 51 years who were put through intermittent exercise in two heat stress conditions. The research was designed to investigate the potential thermal cardiovascular and hydration effects of repeated occupational heat stress.

“We found that the firefighters experienced reduced subjective feelings of thermal and cardiovascular strain during exercise compared to the non-firefighters, potentially indicative of greater heat resilience in firefighters due to the nature of their occupation,” stated study investigator Glen P. Kenny, PhD, a professor at the School of Human Kinetics at the University of Ottawa in Ontario, Canada.

The team said that older firefighters who are chronically exposed to heat stress could become more resilient over time. They said these firefighters may be able to tolerate more challenging or arduous work environments before they feel affected by the heat.

Although the researchers found no differences in the level of thermal and cardiovascular strain between the firefighters and non-firefighters, those who weren’t used to working in the heat felt more heat stressed and found the work more physically challenging. Essentially, the team found that firefighters had “enhanced protection” against heat stress than their counterparts. They said these differences could be more pronounced in less fit individuals, at higher work intensities or rates of heat production, and under conditions that restrict the ability to dissipate heat.

“If you have older workers who work in the heat, they are in a better position to handle working in the heat as compared to their non-heat-exposed counterparts,” Kenny said in a statement. “If they can better handle the heat stress, they can better perform challenging tasks without putting themselves at greater risks of injuries caused by impairments in mental function, alertness, concentration, motor dexterity and coordination.”

The team had previously examined physiological strain between young and middle-aged firefighters during live firefighting and simulated drills. However, this study was designed to look at those who were veteran firefighters.

“Our discovery is especially important given recent findings that aging can decrease an individual’s ability to dissipate heat and therefore work in hot environments,” added Kenny.