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"Awake, smoky, and hot": providing an evidence-base for managing the risks associated with occupational stressors encountered by wildland firefighters
journal contributionposted on 06.12.2017, 00:00 by B Aisbett, A Wolkow, Madeline SprajcerMadeline Sprajcer, Sally FergusonSally Ferguson
To curtail the spread of wildfire, firefighters are often required to work long hours in hot, smoky conditions with little rest between consecutive shifts. In isolation, heat, smoke, and sleep disruption can have a detrimental impact on cognitive and physical abilities. Far less is known, however, about the combined impact that heat, smoke, and sleep disruption can have on firefighters’ performance during wildfire suppression or on human performance in general. The available literature, though scant, suggests that audio and visual tracking may be degraded after sustained heat exposure following one night of sleep deprivation. Exposure to heat and carbon monoxide, in contrast, appears to have only limited impact on cognitive performance, even after physical exercise. Heat and carbon monoxide exposure does, however, increase physiological exertion to a given work or exercise bout. To the authors’ knowledge, there are no published studies that have explored the impacts of heat exposure following sleep disruption on physical work performance, sleep disruption and smoke exposure on physical or cognitive work, or the combined impacts of sleep disruption, smoke and heat exposure on cognitive or physical work. While more integrative research is needed, the current review provides a summary of the available evidence and an indication of the degree of confidence agencies can have in the research. This will allow both the scientific community and agencies to make informed recommendations regarding the management of wildland firefighters’ health and safety on the fireground.