Fires pose greater health risk for firefighters - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Fires pose greater health risk for firefighters

May 17, 2007

Valdosta - Firefighters and foresters have fought the wildfires for a month and a day.

And doctors say they have a greater chance to develop health risks due to the long term exposure to the heavy smoke produced by the fire.

Immediate symptoms include chest pains, headaches, and fatigue but firefighters could still feel the affects once they leave the fires.  "I would expect they are probably going to have some short term effects from this smoke exposure. They may have pro-longed coughing for several weeks and increased mucus production," says Pulmonary Physician Greg Beale.

He says the best way to get rid of the symptoms is to stay out of the smoke and keep hydrated to flush the toxins out of your system.

Smoke isn't the only health risk firefighters face.

Each time a structure burns, it emits dangerous chemicals into the air and although they have gear to protect them, that could cause health problems, too.

Thousands of homes and structures have been saved from the wildfires in Georgia and Florida.

The Valdosta Fire Department has been part of the action.  "When the fire got to the persons yard we went into fire fighter mode," says Capt. Ken Gallagher of the Valdosta Fire Department.

But protecting a home can expose them to some dangerous health risks.  "In a structure fire there is cyanide gas and other really, really bad gases emitting from the plastics."

The health risks begin the moment firefighters first step into their boots. Their gear weights 70 pounds.  Add that to the everyday workload of balancing a hose line and putting out a fire creates a lot of pressure."

"When a firefighter opens the nozzle, there's 150 pounds of pressure pushing back on him as he advances the hose line towards the fire."

Plus the heat of the fire, "Temperatures are anywhere from 1300 degrees in the upper levels of the ceiling down to 200-400 degrees."

And heat of the summer makes a hazardous mix.  "When it's 95 degrees outside and you've got 85 percent humidity and then you put all this gear on, you're just asking for medical problems."

But the Valdosta Fire Department is monitoring its men closely and putting their health first. "Make sure they're hydrated, make sure their fed when there over there.  When they're back here, if they have a big fire in the morning we try to limit the activities for the rest of the day."

So they'll be ready to battle the blaze when the call comes.

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