JOURNAL ARTICLE
RANDOMIZED CONTROLLED TRIAL

Effectiveness of rest pauses and cooling in alleviation of heat stress during simulated fire-fighting activity

J B Carter, E W Banister, J B Morrison
Ergonomics 1999, 42 (2): 299-313
10024849
This study examined whether cooling a fire-fighter with a high velocity fan, during 10 min rest pauses between, and following, 10 min work periods, decreases heat stress during repetitive fire-fighting activity. Twelve professional fire-fighters (mean age 31.8 +/- 6.7 years) completed two, 40 min work/recovery trials in an environmental chamber at 40 degrees C and 70% relative humidity (RH). One trial was termed an enhanced recovery (ER) trial and the other was termed a normal recovery (NR) trial. In both conditions subjects wore full protective clothing and breathing apparatus during the work. In the ER trial a subject removed his protective coat and sat in front of a fan during each recovery period. In the NR trial a subject merely unbuckled his coat and was not cooled by a fan during either recovery period. The group mean metabolic cost (VO2), and the exercise and recovery heart rates were significantly lower (p < or = 0.05) during the ER trial than in the NR condition. Group mean rectal temperature increased by 1.5 degrees C in the NR trial but by only 0.8 degree C during the ER trial. The latter group's more effective cooling indicates the potential of fan cooling to reduce physiological strain and decrease the risk of heat exhaustion during repetitive fire-fighting activity. The results suggest that a fire-fighter's short 10 min exposure to heavy work in a hot environment of 40 degrees C and 70% RH produces minimal heat stress in a healthy fire-fighter. However, a period of fire-fighting exposure greater than 10 min without adequate rest and cooling may lead to a significant accumulation of heat stress and fatigue during further fire-fighting activity, irrespective of physical prowess.

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