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Keywords:

  • firefighters;
  • respiratory symptoms;
  • lung function

Abstract

Background

Exposure to environmental pollution during firefighting may results in the development of respiratory disorders in firefighters.

Methods

The health effects of firefighting on respiratory function was investigated in a group of 128 active firefighters by recording respiratory symptoms and measuring lung function. In addition, 88 control workers, not exposed to known pollutants were studied for the prevalence of acute and chronic respiratory symptoms.

Results

Significantly higher prevalences of dyspnea, nasal catarrh, sinusitis, and hoarseness were recorded in firefighters compared to control workers (P < 0.01). One subject developed asthma symptoms following two intense firefighting episodes. A high prevalence of acute symptoms experienced during and after fire extinguishing was also documented among these firefighters. Eye and throat irritation as well as headache were prominent. A logistic regression analysis of chronic respiratory symptoms demonstrated that odds ratios were significant for both duration of work exposure and for smoking. Lung function testing demonstrated a decrease in FEF75 in relation to predicted suggesting obstructive changes in the smaller airways. A regression analysis of ventilatory capacity tests indicated a positive relationship of forced vital capacity with length of employment, 1 s forced expiratory volume as well as FEF50 were related to smoking, and FEF75 was related to both smoking and length of employment.

Conclusions

Our data suggest that firefighters are at risk for developing acute and chronic respiratory symptoms as well as obstructive airway changes. Am. J. Ind. Med. 40:55–62, 2001. © 2001 Wiley-Liss, Inc.