The BC Wildfire Service (BCWS) is funding research at two western universities that will focus on how wildland firefighters’ work affects their health.
The $305,000 will fund projects to be conducted by researchers at the University of Northern British Columbia (UNBC) and the University of Alberta, the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development (FLNRORD) said in a news release on Oct. 29.
“Our firefighters have worked hard on the front lines to keep British Columbians safe during difficult and record-setting wildfire seasons,” said FLNRORD minister Doug Donaldson. “These studies will help us support their long-term health and well-being.”
The UNBC portion of the research will be led by Chelsea Pelletier, an assistant professor at UNBC’s School of Health Sciences.
Pelletier will examine scientific literature from around the world for all dimensions of firefighter health, including the physical, mental and emotional aspects.
Her work will try to find solutions to reduce any health impacts firefighters face and “identify any gaps in the work-related health knowledge of wildland firefighters and associated personnel.”
The outcomes of the project will help the BCWS set up a long-term research strategy for worker health, expected to be complete by the summer of 2020.
The University of Alberta research will be led by Nicola Cherry, the chair of occupational health with that university’s Division of Preventive Medicine.
Cherry will look at hydrocarbons in the air that firefighters inhale and which accumulate on their skin; the effectiveness of respiratory protective equipment for firefighters; and if wildland firefighters face more chronic lung diseases than other people of the same age, gender and geographic location.
About 50 BCWS firefighters have taken part in that study and firefighters from Alberta are going to join it as well.
A progress report on Cherry’s research is expected in March 2020.