firefighting exercises

Firefighters participating in exercises may find challenges with exhaustion levels. Researchers determine the effects of firefighting exercises on the heart.

Cardiovascular disease risk factors include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, stress, smoking, and physical inactivity. Studies have shown that firefighters on duty are at an increased risk of sudden death from coronary heart disease. The increased mortality could be due to any number of factors, including stroke, physical exhaustion, hypothermia, dehydration, or mental stress.

This study, published in the journal Environmental Health, sought to determine the effects of the firefighting exercises on cardiovascular problems during training while using the appropriate personal protective equipment.  The study included 43 healthy conscripts, firefighters in training, involved in three days of rescue educational courses. During the training, they participated in various firefighting exercises. The participant firefighters practiced in a constructed firehouse and flashover container and were instructed to extinguish fires.  The fires were either on wood alone or wood with electrical cords and mattresses.  The exposure to particulate matter (particles that come from fire and burnt materials) or from the combustion (burning) of materials was assessed at various locations, along with assessments done for personal exposure by portable samplers and urinary excretion of 1-hydroxypyrene. Measurements of microvascular function and heart rate variability (HRV) were also done to determine cardiovascular effects.

The results of the study revealed that the firefighters in training were exposed to particulate matter in bystander positions during fire-fighting exercises. The results further revealed that when training was in progress, firefighters had elevated urinary excretion of 1-hydroxypyrene, increased body temperature, decreased microvascular function, and an increase in varying heart rates.

The study did not show any difference between the two types of fire for training purposes. Additionally, the results of the study showed that the self-contained breathing apparatus completely eliminated pulmonary (airway breathing and lungs) exposure.  As such, it was determined that the cardiovascular problems experienced were the result of the complex effects of exposure to particulate matter, physical exhaustion, and increased body temperature. The physical exhaustion and increased core body temperature experienced by firefighters during extinction exercises caused aggravated effects on the heart. It was revealed that when firefighters removed self-contained breathing apparatus they inhaled particulate matter (PM) this caused the increased cardiovascular effects.

Written by Dr. MòNique J. Grant Coke, DNP, MPH, BSN, Medical Writer

Reference: Andersen, M., Saber, A., Pedersen, Loft, S., Hansen, A., Koponen, I., Pedersen, J.,Ebbehoj, N., Norskov, E., Clausen, P., Garde, A., Vogel, U., ans Moller, P. (2017). Cardiovascular health effects following exposure of human volunteers during fire extinction exercises. Envir Health J. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12940-017-0303-8

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