257971 Heat Stress and Fireifighters: The Enemy Within

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Virginia Sublet, PhD , Environmental and Occupational Health at the College of Public Health, University of South Florida, Sunshine Education and Research Center at University of South Florida and National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, Celebration, FL
Background and Objective: Firefighting is an extremely hazardous occupation for the over 1,000,000 firefighters in the United States. Typically about 100 deaths and thousands of injuries occur annually. Heat stress, a dangerous medical condition, can develop in firefighters exposed to extreme heat. Its effects include heat rash, cramps, dehydration, exhaustion, and stroke which can result in death. Although heat stress is largely preventable, it remains a serious problem in the fire service. The percent of high humidity days and elevated temperatures experienced in Florida may put these firefighters at greater risk of heat related illness than fire professionals in other regions of the U.S. The objective of this study was to assess heat stress and safety behaviors/culture in Florida firefighters. Methods: The methodological approach for this study was qualitative and focus groups were the data collection tool. The groups concentrated on firefighter safety behaviors, perceptions of risk, and favorite channels of communication. They were conducted in fire departments located in Florida. Results: 60 firefighters participated in focus groups. The results indicated that many firefighters (1) do not fully comprehend the seriousness and potential health effects of heat stress, (2) tend to ignore symptoms and risks of heat stress until they are severe, (3) are significantly influenced by the attitudes of others in the fire service, and (4) are highly interested in electronic media. Conclusion: As a result of the study findings, a social media intervention is proposed to educate and reduce the dangerous health risk of heat stress in firefighters.

Learning Areas:
Occupational health and safety
Public health or related research
Social and behavioral sciences

Learning Objectives:
1. Discuss the advantages of using a qualitative study design to understand firefighter health and safety behaviors. 2. Explain the methods used to assess firefighter health and safety behaviors. 3. Describe the outcomes from the study and the proposed intervention.

Keywords: Occupational Health, Behavior Based Safety

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I was the PI of the research submitted in the abstract, conducted all the research myself,and have worked in this area of research for several years.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.