DHS Funds Firefighter Safety Study

May 13, 2005
Last year, three wildland firefighters died while conducting their pack tests – a physical endurance examination requiring firefighters to haul upwards of 45 pounds of equipment for 3.5 miles with a time limit of 45 minutes – and the Department of Homeland Security wants some answers.

The pack test simulates the conditions experienced by firefighters during an actual wildland fire.

In an effort to avoid such fatalities, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Office of State and Local Government Coordination and Preparedness awarded Storm King Mountain Technologies and VivoMetrics Government Services with a grant for $750,000 to be used for the development of protective measures for wildland firefighters.

"In my opinion, there is no better use of fire prevention and safety funds than to help save firefighters' lives," said Matt Mayer, acting executive director, Office of State and Local Government Coordination and Preparedness. "For the last 30 years, we have spent a lot of time and research on how to make firefighting safer, and now we are starting to apply some of that work to wildland firefighters. This is a great way for us to partner with our colleagues at the state and local level and the private sector to try to bring down the number of deaths that have occurred on the line and help our fire service get stronger and better."

In the study, VivoMetrics Government Services' LifeShirt System will monitor the cardiopulmonary function of 500 wildland firefighters while they conduct this year's pack test in an effort to learn about the physiologic condition of firefighters when working in high-stress situations. From the study's data, which deliver the first glimpse into this area of firefighters' health, it is expected that guidelines will be created for the test, providing important safety knowledge to agencies throughout the country. Storm King and VivoMetrics Government Services' efforts will not only make for a smoother pack test, but also contribute to the well-being of wildland firefighters while on the job.

The objective of VivoMetrics Government Services and Storm King Mountain Technologies' work will be to simultaneously measure respiration, heart rate, blood oxygen saturation, body temperature, posture, and activity experienced by firefighters while they participate in the annual pack test. It is hoped that this data will provide a greater understanding of the physiologic responses that accompany the stress involved in such a test. Most importantly, the data will ultimately assist in producing guidelines for the monitoring of physiologic responses to increase overall safety in future pack tests, training scenarios and deployment in the field.

"Today, we have no information about how a wildland firefighter is being affected by the stresses of fighting a forest fire, " said Andrew Behar, president of VivoMetrics Government Services. "By wearing a LifeShirt beneath their protective gear, we can gather the data needed to develop guidelines to help reduce the threat of injury or fatality that accompany this line of work. We're extremely proud to be a part of this effort to further protect the nation's wildland firefighters who put their lives on the line every day."

Jim Roth, president of Storm King Mountain Technologies, noted, "The ability to monitor vital signs will give safety officers and fitness test administrators the tools to improve firefighter safety."

To learn more about the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Office of State and Local Government Coordination and Preparedness' Fire Prevention and Firefighter Safety Grant Program and awards for 2005, visit www.firegrantsupport.com/fps/awards.

About the Author

Sandy Smith

Sandy Smith is the former content director of EHS Today, and is currently the EHSQ content & community lead at Intelex Technologies Inc. She has written about occupational safety and health and environmental issues since 1990.

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