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Characterization of Firefighter Smoke Exposure

Abstract

A study of firefighter exposure was undertaken as part of a larger smoke exposure study. Teams of Chicago Fire Department firefighters were issued equipment for monitoring exposure conditions during structural fire suppression activity (knockdown and overhaul) and search and rescue operations. Potential inhalation exposure was characterized by outfitting firefighters with direct-reading gas meters and personal cascade impactors. The gas meters used electrochemical sensors to detect six gases of interest: carbon monoxide (CO), hydrogen sulfide (H2S), sulfur dioxide (SO2), ammonia (NH3), nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and hydrogen cyanide (HCN). The personal cascade impactors were four stage units with 9.8 μm, 3.5 μm, 0.93 μm and 0.52 μm particle size cut points. Size-segregated particles collected on the impactor plates were analyzed for smoke particle weight distribution and for inorganic element content by inductively coupled plasma-mass spectroscopy (ICP-MS). Gloves and hoods were issued to teams of firefighters as part of their standard turnout ensemble and collected at regular intervals for chemical evaluation of accumulated combustion residue. Sections of the hoods and gloves were analyzed for inorganic element content by ICP-MS, mercury by cold vapor atomic absorption spectroscopy (CVAAS), and polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and other organic compounds by gas chromatography-mass spectroscopy (GC–MS). Findings indicated that firefighters are exposed to:

  • Smoke particles, especially in the submicron size range.

  • Concentrations of toxic gases in excess of NIOSH published IDLH (Immediately Dangerous to Life or Health) and STEL (Short Term Exposure Limit) levels.

  • Chemical species that are either known or suspected potential carcinogens as classified by NIOSH, OSHA, and ACGIH.

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Notes

  1. The most common elements present in the earth’s crust are oxygen (46.6%), silicon (27.7%), aluminum (8.1%), iron (5.0%), calcium (3.6%), sodium (2.8%), potassium (2.6%), magnesium (2.1%). Source: “Windows to the Universe”, University Corporation for Atmospheric Research.

  2. Effective August 14, 2011.

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Acknowledgments

This research was funded by the Department of Homeland Security AFG Fire Prevention & Safety Grants program under grant number EMW-2007-FP-02093 and conducted jointly by Underwriters Laboratories Inc, the Chicago Fire Department, and the University Of Cincinnati College Of Medicine. The authors wish to express their gratitude to the fine men and women of the Chicago Fire Department and the laboratory staff of Underwriters Laboratories who have contributed to and worked on this project.

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Correspondence to Thomas Z. Fabian.

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Fabian, T.Z., Borgerson, J.L., Gandhi, P.D. et al. Characterization of Firefighter Smoke Exposure. Fire Technol 50, 993–1019 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10694-011-0212-2

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10694-011-0212-2

Keywords

  • Firefighter
  • Overhaul
  • Products of combustion
  • Gases
  • Smoke
  • Smoke particulate
  • Inhalation
  • Size distribution
  • Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons
  • PAHs
  • Metals
  • Respiratory protection