Respiratory equipment could reduce coronary risk for firefighters
The findings, published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, concluded that more consistent use of respiratory protective equipment, especially during the overhaul stage of fire suppression, could reduce firefighters' exposure to ultrafine particles -- invisible particles that can reach the smallest air passages in the lungs -- and possibly lower coronary risk.
The research team, led by C. Stuart Baxter of the University of Cincinnati, measured levels of different sizes of breathable particles during test fires conducted under experimental conditions. In all types of fires, ultrafine particles -- measuring less than 0.1 microns -- accounted for more than 70 percent of all particles.
Levels of ultrafine particles were high throughout all stages of fire suppression, not only during the knockdown phase when firefighters work to extinguish the fire or limit its growth but also during the overhaul phase when the goal is to prevent the fire from reigniting. Researchers said exposure may be especially high during the overhaul phase because firefighters often remove their respiratory protective equipment.
Baxter said coronary events are a major health issue in firefighters, causing nearly half of all deaths on duty. Exposure to ultrafine particles could contribute to coronary disease in firefighters, not only as a long-term health risk, but also as a cause of coronary events while responding to fires, he said.
To reduce this exposure, Baxter said firefighters should be encouraged to use respiratory protective equipment throughout all phases of fire suppression. The researchers also endorsed previous recommendations for medical screening to identify and manage coronary risk factors in firefighters.
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September 27, 2010
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