Introduction: The objective of this study was to document characteristics of hiking during wildland firefighter (WLFF) training and wildfire suppression. For the first time, the overall physical demands during wildland firefighting were evaluated in the field using global positioning systems coupled with wireless physiological monitoring and load carriage prediction models.
Methods: Male (n=116) and female (n=15) interagency hotshot crew and type II WLFFs on wildfires volunteered for this direct observation study. Participants’ heart rate, internal temperature, speed, and elevation gain were monitored throughout training and during wildfire suppression. The Pandolf and Santee equations were used to predict metabolic rate to estimate oxygen consumption of uphill and downhill hiking.
Results: Equipment weight varied by crew type (type II: 24±9 kg and interagency hotshot crew: 28±6 kg; P<0.05). Grade of terrain was steepest during training hikes, and ingress hikes were statistically different from egress and training hikes (ingress: 4±9%, shift: 4±9%, egress: 1±8%, training hikes: 10±9%; P<0.01). Estimated oxygen consumption was highest during ingress hikes and was significantly different from all other hike types on fire assignments (ingress: 22±12, shift: 19±12, egress: 19±12 mL·kg-1·min-1; P=0.01). Oxygen consumption was higher during training hikes (34±14 mL·kg-1·min-1) than during job-related hikes (P<0.01).
Conclusions: The greatest metabolic demand during wildfire assignments occurred during ingress hikes. On average, this was close to the estimated metabolic demand of the job qualification arduous pack test. However, greater metabolic demand occurred for periods during both shift (on the job) and training hikes. These data quantify the demands associated with actual wildland performance of WLFFs and can help define future work capacity testing and training procedures.