The Science Journal of the American Association for Respiratory Care

2007 OPEN FORUM Abstracts

RESPIRATORY ASSESSMENT OF FIREFIGHTERS IN A RURAL COMMUNITY

D. L. Smith1, K. E. Diles2, M. E. Anders3, M. A. Smith4

Background: Firefighters are at risk for health problems associated with smoke exposure. An effective respiratory protection program for certain firefighting situations, implementation of medical surveillance, and communication of risks could attenuate the prevalence of these health problems. The purpose of this study was to use a respiratory health questionnaire for early detection of respiratory symptoms among firefighters.

Method: This study was approved by the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences Institutional Review Board. A convenience sample of 85 volunteer and paid firefighters in six rural areas of Northeast Texas and Southwest Arkansas were identified. The self-assessment questionnaire consisted of demographic information, current health history, past health history, prevalence of tobacco and alcohol use, quality of life assessment, type of protective equipment worn, and type of fires fought within the last 6 months. The survey consisted of structured questions and responses on a Likert scale.

Results:
A total of 83 completed surveys were returned for a response rate of 97.6%. Four (5%) of the participants reported a previous diagnosis of asthma and 14 (17%) reported a previous diagnosis of bronchitis. Seven (8%) reported a productive cough and two (2%) participants reported a persistent cough. Wheezing at rest was reported by six (7%) of the participants and two (2%) reported shortness of breath at rest. The table presents the proportion of participants who reported shortness of breath, productive cough, and wheezing.

Conclusions:
Our study results suggest that a clinically important proportion of firefighters report shortness of breath at the scene of the fire and afterwards, as well as a productive cough afterwards. Further study is needed to determine the effects of pre-existing pulmonary disease and smoking in more diverse samples of firefighters. Ultimately, validation of a health questionnaire to facilitate self-assessment of health status could raise awareness of personal safety and improve respiratory health among firefighters.

Symptom In AM
n = 83
In PM
n = 83
Scene of Fire
n = 83
Post Fire
n = 83
Shortness of breath 7 (8%) 8 (10%) 40 (48%) 44 (53%)
Productive cough 14 (17%) 14 (17%) 10 (12%) 25 (30%)
Wheezing 11 (13%) 10 (12%) 9 (11%) 10 (12%)



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