Firefighters have dangerous jobs. They’re the ones running into the burning buildings as we run away. And they face high risks of injuries and illnesses because of this job. However, while our images of firefighters and associated risks typically focuses on the fire itself, potential health hazards don’t stop when they return to the firehouse.
Most previous research on firefighter health—both on documenting exposures and possible prevention strategies—has focused on fires, and does not account for additional adverse exposures at firehouses. Firefighters spend large portions of shifts waiting for calls, where they can be exposed to pollutants such as diesel exhaust from idling trucks and off-gassing from contaminated post-fire gear. Studies in other industries have demonstrated links between the indoor environment and various health outcomes, yet little work has taken place at firehouses.
In 2015, while based at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Emily Sparer began to work with the Boston Fire Department and Local 718 Firefighters Union on issues related to cancer prevention at the firehouse. Now based in the Healthy Buildings Program, Sparer and colleagues are continuing research that aims to investigate firehouse adverse exposures. They are currently working on a study that aims to quantify environmental exposures at firehouses in Boston, as well as cities and towns throughout the state of Massachusetts.