Christine Betchley

Project title: Smoke Exposure and Health Effects on Forest Firefighters at Prescribed Burns

Degree: MS | Program: Environmental Health Technology (Tech) - No longer offered | Project type: Thesis/Dissertation
Completed in: 1993 | Faculty advisor: Jane Q. Koenig


Control and management of wild fires and prescribed burns involves an estimated 80,000 firefighters per year in the US. On average, there are 70,000 fires covering more than two million acres during an active fire season. The increasing need for land has resulted in people moving into critical areas between urban and wildland environments. Recreationalists also are increasing in their use of wildlands. These changes require more fire protection and fire management. The result is greater demands being placed on wildland and rural firefighters to provide protection.

Evidence suggests that fire suppression activities may adversely effect the health of wildland firefighters. The Yellowstone fires in 1988 stimulated increased concerns over the health effects from the products of incomplete combustion. During this period, 12,000 firefighters reported respiratory problems to medical personnel.

Wildland fires produce many components that can be hazardous to human health. With the increasing need for fire protection, it will be difficult to eliminate the firefighters' exposure to smoke from wildfires or prescribed burns. This research was carried out to answer questions about acute effects of such exposures and help in the assessment of risk and management approaches in an effort to reduce exposure.