Human Factors of Firefighter Safety
Wildland Firefighter Health
Hiking with a pack is the highest-intensity task that wildland firefighters (WLFFs) perform during sustained activities related to wildland fire suppression. Firefighters perform this and other tasks together as a crew; this provides a unique model to evaluate select physical and physiological changes in members of working crews over a fire season during extended operations. The objective of this study was to evaluate changes in peak aerobic fitness (VO2peak), sustainable aerobic fitness at the ventilatory threshold (VO2vt) and body composition over a 5-month wildland fire season. WLFFs from four crews (55 males, 10 females) participated in a maximal graded exercise treadmill test and body composition evaluation pre- and post season. VO2peak values and variance did not change across the fire season (pre = 3.96 ± 0.65, post = 3.96 ± 0.69 L min−1, not significant). VO2vt average decreased slightly while variance decreased greatly within each crew (pre = 37.5 ± 7.0, post = 35.4 ± 2.3 mL kg−1 min−1, P < 0.05). There was an improvement in VO2vt in initially less-fit WLFFs and a VO2vt decrease in initially more-fit WLFFs. WLFFs lost fat mass (−1.56 ±−1.06 kg, P < 0.01) and fat-free mass (−0.38 ±−1.24 kg, P < 0.05). Post-season VO2vt values were the same as the higher range of the documented metabolic cost of uphill load carriage and reveal a unique group adaptation to extended physical demands.