Fire in Canada proves long-term consequences for firefighters

Not only are firefighters exposed to dangers immediately, but their work also brings with it the risk of long-term lung damage.

Flames near the Canadian community of Fort McMurray on May 7, 2016. They should spread quickly then and burn for several months. (Photo: Reuters/Mark Blench)

Putting your life at risk for others is an essential aspect of the rescue profession. A new study out of Canada now shows: that it’s not just about the immediate risks at work, but also the serious health consequences that can be serious.

Canada’s most expensive environmental disaster

Researchers at University of Alberta In the county capital Edmonton, they investigated the long-term consequences of firefighters. To be more precise: the lungs of first aiders who fought in 2016 against a massive fire that broke out near the community of Fort McMurray.

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Because the flames spread quickly after that, nearly 90,000 people were evacuated. A total of 1.5 million hectares of land burned from the beginning of May until the end of August, destroying more than 3,000 buildings and causing damage estimated at 5.5 billion euros. The fire is arguably the most expensive environmental disaster in Canadian history.

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First responders bear the most damage

And it has far-reaching consequences for many people. Because in their investigations Now researchers have found: that firefighters who were on duty at the time had visible lung damage. And in the years that followed, they were more likely to develop lung diseases such as asthma. The researchers compared the health data of a total of 1,234 firefighters with people in the population with whom they agree on factors such as age and place of residence.

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It turns out that firefighters were more likely to have asthma in the three years after the fire. Of all the firefighters examined, 20 percent also had decreased lung capacity and bronchial enlargement – symptoms of advanced respiratory disease. The firefighters who first arrived at the scene at that time were the hardest hit.

Fine particles in smoke damage the lungs

in the current situation, who accompanies the study’s publication, is quoted by author and professor of medicine Nicola Cherry: “Those who experienced burnt substances were exposed to countless fine particles in the smoke. Whichever came closest, he had to contend with the heaviest-term anticipating the consequences.”

With their study, the Cherry team wants to better understand the risks firefighters take on the job — in order to make work safer in the future. Cherry explains that this can be achieved with breathing masks or with shorter periods of use near a fire to reduce exposure to hazardous smoke particles for each individual.

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