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The physiological, immunological and contaminant monitoring of firefighters and instructors

Lorna King


Health & Fitness Correspondent Lorna King speaks to Dr Alan Richardson and Dr Emily Watkins about the key findings and recommendations that have come from their research project that could and should transform UK fire and rescue’s approach to heat exposure.


It is well known and globally documented that heat exposure from fires can have a detrimental effect on firefighter’s health. The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) and the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) have both provided guidance and training on the effects of over-exposure and the prevention of heat-related illness. Until recently, however, there has been no substantial research in the UK into the possible side effects of long-term repeated exposure to extreme heat, as commonly experienced by instructors.

In 2016, the NFCC published its Health Management of Compartment Fire Behaviour Instructors (CFBIs) document that provided detailed guidance on risks and recommendations for best practice within the training environment. The document is thorough, but it raises concerns about the need for further research here in the UK: ‘One possible side effect of repeated exposure to an extreme thermal environment is an unfavourable change in the immune system. Richardson, Maxwell, Watt, Smeeton and Wilmott in their research Heat Exposure and the Immune Function in Fire and Rescue Service Personnel (2013) point to the fact that while previous studies indicate short term changes in immune function, there is currently no research into longer term health risks associated with the severe repeated exposures particular to CFBIs’.

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