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Heat-related illness among wildland firefighters
  1. Curtis W Noonan1,2,
  2. Erin O'Brien Semmens1,2
  1. 1 Center for Population Health Research, University of Montana, Missoula, Montana, USA
  2. 2 School of Public and Community Health Sciences, University of Montana, Missoula, Montana, USA
  1. Correspondence to Professor Curtis W Noonan, Center for Population Health Research, University of Montana, Missoula, MT 59812, USA; curtis.noonan{at}

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The 2019 bushfire catastrophe in Australia is only the most recent example of the increasing duration and intensity of wildfire events. In the past decade, the USA experienced 67 000 wildfires annually with an average 7 million acres burned. Over 34 000 US wildland firefighters (WLFFs) are engaged in arduous, high-risk duty, yet several features of this occupation limit our ability to understand the associated short-term and long-term health risks. For example, wildfire suppression activities are spread over multiple state and federal agencies, and most WLFFs are seasonally employed and assigned to multiple locations within a season. The mobile nature of firefighting, oftentimes in difficult terrain, further complicates the potential for observational occupational health studies in this population. In this edition of OEM, West et al 1 overcame these challenges with one of the largest to date field studies of WLFF physiological measures with directly observed work activity assessment.

Among the many potential health risks for this population is heat-related illness (HRI). WLFFs may be at risk for HRI because they are engaged in long periods of arduous activity in hot environments with heavy fire-protective clothing. Occurrence of HRI has not been directly assessed in WLFFs, but …

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  • Contributors Both authors contributed to the conception, writing, revision and finalisation of the commentary.

  • Funding CWN and EOS are supported by National Institute of Occupational Sciences and Health (1R21OH011385) and the National Institutes of Health (1P20GM130418).

  • Competing interests CWN and EOS have collaborations with some of the authors on US Forest Service projects.

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

  • Provenance and peer review Commissioned; internally peer reviewed.

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