Fog Attack p.215 on - “ It was somewhat of a coincidence that I had read Deborah Wallace’s graphic account of how firefighters had suffered at the New York Telephone Exchange fire (1975), just four hours before my fire station responded to a ‘working’ fire involving an electrical transformer station in London’s West End district. As we approached the incident, thick black smoke was pouring from a room situated underneath a high-rise tower. The reports of burning PVC cables giving off such highly toxic emissions as hydrogen chloride, phthalates, carbon monoxide, benzene, and organics, leading to throat cancers and other fatal conditions, were still fresh in my mind as we climbed down from the pumpers. A team of firefighters had attempted a closer look ahead of us (without CABA) and I immediately turned to colleagues, warning them of the dangers. Seconds later the advance team came coughing and spluttering into the street. They complained of chest pains for days afterwards!”
The latest research
This series of documents set out a strategy and offer recommendations for establishing increased fire service awareness of and promoting changes in equipment and procedures to minimize the harmful effects from exposure to contaminants from the fireground and other emergency responses. Ample evidence exists that firefighters are frequently exposed to a variety of different types of contamination, ranging from products of combustion to hazardous chemicals to infectious diseases. The persistency for many of these exposures leads to both acute and chronic health issues that can be partly mitigated by implementing a proactive approach that increases firefighter understanding of contamination hazards and by instituting new equipment and response practices that limit, where practical, the exposures to these hazards.
The international fire service community is actively engaged in a wide range of activities focused on development, testing, and implementation of effective approaches to reduce exposure to contaminants and the related cancer risk. However, these activities are often viewed independent of each other and in the absence of the larger overall effort of occupational health risk mitigation. This narrative review synthesizes the current research on fire ser- vice contamination control in the context of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Hierarchy of Controls, a framework that supports decision making around implementing feasible and effective control solutions in occupational settings.
We have been aware of the exposure hazard for more than 40 years (see Fog Attack 1992). Deborah Wallace’s book (above), discussed throughout Fog Attack, probably saved hundreds of firefighters lives. However, we now have evidence as to the extent of the problem. However what we don’t know is how we identify and apply ALARP exposure boundaries at fires. How far should we go in balancing risk to firefighters whilst others are also at risk? https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/972907/firefighters-and-cancer-policy-paper-47.pdf
Here is an area where far more research needs to be undertaken in an area where solutions are challenging us. Wildland firefighters are exposed to smoke-containing particulate matter (PM) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) while suppressing wildfires. From 2015 to 2017, the U.S. Forest Service conducted a field study collecting breathing zone measurements of PM4 (particulate matter with aerodynamic diameter ≤4 μm) on wildland firefighters from different crew types and while performing various fire suppression tasks on wildfires.
Australian contaminant research for both male and female firefighters. To investigate mortality and cancer incidence of paid Australian firefighters and of subgroups of firefighters by era of first employment, duration of employment and number and type of incidents attended.
As reported in EuroFirefighter 2 (2017) pages 11-14, Firefighter exposure to Smoke Particulates whilst wearing PPE (Contaminants) - A key research area, partnered UL with the Chicago Fire Department and the University of Cincinnati, college of medicine, to further investigate the relationship with sub-micron smoke particles
Always important to analyse and hear both sides of the story, read the science but not take too much from social media on these matters. However clearly something to follow.