Asheton Gilbertson

Project title: Understanding Post-fire Glove Use in Washington Firefighters with the Health Belief Model: Results of a Cross-sectional Survey

Degree: MS (Thesis) | Program: Occupational Hygiene (OH) | Project type: Thesis/Dissertation
Completed in: 2023 | Faculty advisor: Elena Austin


Background and Objectives: Dermal exposures to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are a likely pathway explaining elevated cancer risk in firefighters. Current hand hygiene best practices have been shown to significantly reduce PAHs deposited on skin, however, increasing evidence suggests that compliance in use and quality of personal protective equipment (PPE) is needed to effectively prevent dermal PAH absorption. Research in this area has focused on structural firefighting PPE used during fire suppression. It is not clear how differences in PPE use post-fire suppression may act to mediate or exacerbate dermal PAH absorption. This research sought to address this gap by exploring post-fire glove use in Washington firefighters.

Methods: Between December 2022 and March 2023 an online survey was used to explore the types of gloves Washington firefighters wear during post-fire demobilization and the factors influencing firefighters’ glove use. Informed by the Health Belief Model, the survey collected information about firefighters’ perceptions related to PPE and health; knowledge and use of decontamination best practices; and personal characteristics. Descriptive statistics and multinomial logistic regression were used to analyze survey responses stratified by glove use.

Results: Three hundred sixty-four firefighters from sixty-two fire departments completed the Washington Firefighter Glove Survey. Participants reported use of many different types of gloves post-fire. Relatively few firefighters reported use of structural firefighting gloves (n=103, 28%) or medical examination gloves (n=35, 10%). Most firefighters (n=169, 42%) reported use of “work” gloves (i.e., leather, mechanic, or gardening gloves). Type of glove use was best explained by a combination of modifying factors and health beliefs. However, only glove-related characteristics were statistically significant (Bonferroni-adjusted p-value <0.05).

Conclusion(s): Lack of specificity in current guidance appeared to influence firefighters’ reliance on personal PPE perceptions and assessment of risk related to their post-fire glove use. Our findings—namely that only 10% of firefighters wore medical gloves and roughly 5% didn’t wear gloves post-fire—emphasize the need for interventions at both the individual and organizational levels. Future research should focus on developing specific glove use policies and best practices that incorporate glove quality—in terms of chemical protection efficacy and useability—and firefighter health beliefs.