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Health Hazards of Smoke Winter/Spring 1992

Firefighters Respond

This section summarizes the responses of firefighters to open-ended questions in the questionnaire on the use of respiratory protective devices in wildfire suppression and prescribed burning.

Do you feel that the health hazards of smoke in wildfire fighting and/or prescribed burning warrant the use of a respiratory protective: device? Of 225 written responses, 65.3 percent would agree with the statement: The use of a respiratory protective device is warranted during work in dense or heavy smoke when extended exposure time is expected.

What situations (other than direct attack, line holding, mop-up) warrant the use of a respirator? Fifty-nine written responses included : In fire camps located in dense or heavy smoke; during air inversions and dead air periods, and any period when there are dense or heavy concentrations of dust, ash, CO or other harmful gasses.

Did the device used provide relief from smoke? Of the 63 respondents who said no and provided an explanation, 73 percent of them said: The device provided some relief from smoke but that it could have been much better.

Did the device affect your productivity? Of the 100 who answered yes and described how, 55 percent would agree with the following statement: The device limited my ability to breathe enough air when working hard or walking uphill; 20 percent said the devices are too heavy, bulky and difficult to work in to be effective.

Did the device fit reasonably well? Of the 39 individuals who said no and described the problem, 64 percent said: No the device did not fit well because of constant adjustment needed and smoke leaking in around the seals. When asked to describe other things (other than beard, scar or glasses) that affected proper fit, three had difficulty wearing the device with a hard hat and two said the straps got tangled in their hair.

Did the device interfere with talking or radio use? Of 110 people who described the problem. 94.6 percent said: The device muffled the voice so you had to take it off to talk effectively on the radio or to others.

Describe what would be the ideal respiratory protective device for fighting wildland fires or prescribed burns? Of the 165 who described the ideal device, 76.4' percent said: It should be small, lightweight, comfortable, easy to maintain, easy to carry, and effective at filtering heavy smoke, dust, ash, CO, and other harmful gasses; 15.2 percent said full face masks; and 5.5 percent said bandannas.

In your experience ... what may be some of the problems associated with the use of respiratory protective devices? Of 170 respondents, 62.3 percent would agree with all or part of the following: Devices are too heavy and bulky to carry and/or wear; they restrict breathing, vision, communication, and mobility, and are ineffective at properly filtering the smoke, dust, ash, CO, and other gasses that are encountered in wildland firefighting.

In your opinion, would a device that protects against some but not all the hazards of smoke provide a false sense of security? Of the 200 who chose to explain their response, 50 percent said: Yes, they could provide a false sense of security and cause people to stay in heavy smoke or hazardous areas too long. However, they thought that with proper education on the hazards of smoke and proper training on the limitations and use of the devices, the situation could be corrected.

What guidelines would you recommend for when a respiratory protective device should be deployed and used? Of the 280 who responded, 78.2 percent would agree to the following: Anytime the smoke, dust, ash, or CO levels are high and an extended exposure time is expected, the device should be used.

Aside from respiratory protective devices, what other ways should be used to avoid or limit exposure to smoke? Of the 250 respondents who listed or described other ways to avoid smoke, 69.2 percent suggested: Common sense, use more indirect attack, rotate crews out of heavy smoke areas often to limit exposure time and put fire camps outside of heavy smoke areas; 33.6 percent said use common sense and stay out of heavy smoke, realize that trees and animals aren't worth the lungs and lives of fire fighters; 11.6 percent said wear bandannas.

Any final comments you may have about respirators, smoke, and wildland firefighting? Of 185 comments, 61.6 percent would agree with the following: A good, lightweight, functional, effective protective device should be developed and available for use by wildland firefighters when the conditions warrant its use or the firefighter feels it is needed.

OSHA Proposes Amendments To Formaldehyde Standard from Federal Register, U.S. Department of Labor, July 15, 1991.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is proposing amendments to its existing formaldehyde standards. The proposed amendments would lower the permissible exposure limit (PEL) to 0.75 from 1 ppm as an 8-hour time-weighted average (TWA). The amendment would add medical removal protection provision for those employees suffering adverse health effects from occupational exposure to formaldehyde. The proposed amendment would require that employee training be conducted on an annual basis for all employees exposed to formaldehyde concentrations greater than 0.1 ppm. [Note: Exposure limits for formaldehyde have been exceeded in a small portion of the limited number of breathing zone samples collected on wildland firefighters.]

Forest Uses SCBA

The San Bernadino National Forest has purchased self-contained breathing apparatuses (SCBA) to protect firefighters from hazardous emissions encountered while fighting vehicle fires. During a recent fire season, the Forest recorded 101 vehicle fires, of which 36 resulted in wildland ignitions with 205 acres burned. Since 36,000,000 vehicles pass Forest gates yearly, the potential for vehicle fires is great. Wildland firefighters are the first line of defense against these fires and SCBA will protect firefighters from the hazardous emissions.

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