Cooling hyperthermic firefighters by immersing forearms and hands in 10 degrees C and 20 degrees C water

Gordon G Giesbrecht, Christopher Jamieson, Farrell Cahill
Aviation, Space, and Environmental Medicine 2007, 78 (6): 561-7

INTRODUCTION: Firefighters experience significant heat stress while working with heavy gear in a hot, humid environment. This study compared the cooling effectiveness of immersing the forearms and hands in 10 and 20 degrees C water.

METHODS: Six men (33 +/- 10 yr; 180 +/- 4 cm; 78 +/- 9 kg; 19 +/- 5% body fat) wore firefighter 'turn-out gear' (heavy clothing and breathing apparatus weighing 27 kg) in a protocol including three 20-min exercise bouts (step test, 78 W, 40 degrees C air, 40% RH) each followed by a 20-min rest/cooling (21 degrees C air); i.e., 60 min of exercise, 60 min of cooling. Turn-out gear was removed during rest/cooling periods and subjects either rested (Control), immersed their hands in 10 or 20 degrees C water (H-10, H-20), or immersed their hands and forearms in 10 or 20 degrees C water (HF-10, HF-20).

RESULTS: In 20 degrees C water, hand immersion did not reduce core temperature compared with Control; however, including forearm immersion decreased core temperature below Control values after both the second and final exercise periods (p < 0.001). In 10 degrees C water, adding forearm with hand immersion produced a lower core temperature (0.8 degrees C above baseline) than all other conditions (1.1 to 1.4 degrees C above baseline) after the final exercise period (p < 0.001). Sweat loss during Control (1458 g) was greater than all active cooling protocols (1146 g) (p < 0.001), which were not different from each other.

DISCUSSION: Hand and forearm immersion in cool water is simple, reduces heat strain, and may increase work performance in a hot, humid environment. With 20 degrees C water, forearms should be immersed with the hands to be effective. At lower water temperatures, forearm and/or hand immersion will be effective, although forearm immersion will decrease core temperature further.

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