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Title:Effect of SCBA Design and Firefighting Induced Fatigue on Balance, Gait and Safety of Movement
Author(s):Horn, Gavin P.; Kesler, Richard M.; Hsiao-Wecksler, Elizabeth T.; Motl, Robert W.; Rosengren, Karl S.; Fernhall, Bo
Life safety
Firefighting research
Firefighter injuries
Abstract:Here we presented a report for the Fire Service documenting an examination of the effect of SCBA and firefighting induced fatigue on firefighters’ gait, balance, and safety of movement. More detailed, peer-reviewed scientific reports can be found in academic literature and are available at the Illinois Fire Service Institute. Fireground operations are inherently dangerous, with overexertion/ strain and slips, trips, and falls being the two leading causes of injury. 26.5% of fireground injuries are a result of overexertion or strain, conditions which may be accelerated by the fact that firefighting activities can induce near maximal heart rates and elevated core temperatures. The high levels of effort and exertion needed to complete such activities may be made worse by the firefighter’s turnout gear and self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA). Anecdotal evidence suggests a trend in the Fire Service toward extended duration SCBA (greater than 30-min), which may further increase the physical demand on the firefighter. Further, nearly 23% of fireground injuries are the result of a slip, trip, and/or fall. These injuries often occur while or following firefighting activities, and may often be a result of the fatigue those activities have induced in the firefighter. Extended duration SCBA are typically heavier and may reduce the time before the firefighter becomes fatigued. Thirty firefighters were recruited to take part in repeated-measures study to examine the effects of SCBAs and duration of work cycle have on physiological strain, balance, gait, and safety of movement. Firefighters completed seven different conditions with various SCBA (30, 45, and 60-minute standard cylindrical SCBA and a low-profile 45-min prototype) and durations of simulated firefighting (one or two bouts) in a heated environmental chamber (117°F (47°C)). Four activities were performed (stair climb, hose advance, secondary search, and overhaul) on two-minute work-rest cycles. Subjects also completed an obstacle course designed to test their gait and functional balance prior to, and immediately after the simulated firefighting activities. Following firefighting activity firefighters had elevated heart rates and core temperatures. The firefighters also generally performed worse in the obstacle course. The size of the SCBA had a minimal impact on the firefighters, though it did decrease the performance on a Functional Balance Test. The low-profile prototype SCBA impacted the firefighters in a similar manner as the traditional cylindrical SCBA, though firefighters generally took longer to pass through a 16-inch on-center stud space. When firefighters completed multiple bouts of simulated firefighting activity heart rates and core temperatures were elevated relative to a single bout while the number of repetitions performed during each activity decreased. Performance during the obstacle course was also more negatively impacted following a second bout of activity than after a single bout.
Issue Date:2015
Publisher:Illinois Fire Service Institute, University of Illinois
Genre:Technical Report
Sponsor:U.S. Department of Homeland Security through the Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program (Research and Development grant: EMW-2010-FP-01606)
Rights Information:Copyright 2015, University of Illinois Board of Trustees
Date Available in IDEALS:2015-09-22

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  • IFSI Research
    This collection contains research publications from IFSI Research at the Illinois Fire Service Institute.

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