Firefighters are no strangers to respiratory hazards. Operatives are consistently exposed to smoke, toxins and harmful airborne chemicals.
In a recent article, we found that harmful airborne substances were being trapped in PPE layers, and slowly sinking through them, eventually posing a threat to those wearing the PPE due to the contaminants seeping into their skin through the material.
Previous studies on firefighters have found they are consistently exposed to sulfur dioxide, hydrogen chloride, phosgene, nitrogen oxides, aldehydes and particulate. As building materials are broken down within a fire scenario, they release countless combustion products which threaten the respiratory systems in the short and long term.
Short-Term Respiratory Effects
1- Hypoxedmia due to smoke inhalation.
2- Acute decrements in lung function
3- Changed airway responsiveness and sensitivity.
Long-term Respiratory Effects
There are historical links between firefighting and chronic pulmonary disease. Studies have also linked respiratory-related illnesses and deaths in firefighters with exposure to these chemicals.
Though proper PPE and breathing equipment are constantly updated and evaluated with these chronic illnesses and harmful chemical exposure in mind, additional activities can keep the body healthy – which, when used alongside the appropriate equipment, help to negate the effects of these harmful toxins.
These activities include exercise, breathing exercises, cardio and general fitness. Authorities recommend not smoking, and following effective health and safety programmes to continue tracking whether further corrective action needs to be taken.
Research and understanding of toxins in fire scenarios and the effects they have on firefighters is still being researched to this day.