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Research into wildland firefighter health underway

Researchers at the University of Northern British Columbia will spend the next year studying the impacts of wildfire exposure on firefighters. Dr. Chelsea Pelletier, an assistant professor at UNBC's School of Health Sciences, is leading the project.
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Studies are underway into the effects of fighting wildfires on firefighters' health.

Researchers at the University of Northern British Columbia will spend the next year studying the impacts of wildfire exposure on firefighters.

Dr. Chelsea Pelletier, an assistant professor at UNBC's School of Health Sciences, is leading the project.

The team will examine previous literature and talk to key stakeholders. They will also identify mitigation strategies or policies implemented to reduce negative health impacts.

"This project is important because it establishes a partnership between UNBC and the B.C. Wildfire Service," said Pelletier. "We are hoping to help the BCWS develop a program of research that reflects the priorities of key stakeholders, most importantly wildfire fighters themselves so that we can better understand the health risk and mitigation strategies."

Once complete, the results, combined with previous research, will support the development of a long-term research strategy for worker health. This project is expected to be completed by summer 2020.

The B.C. Wildfire Service is funding the project for $125,000 through the Canadian Partnership for Wildland Fire Science, also known as Canada Wildfire, with additional support from the Health Research Institute and the newly created Knowledge Synthesis Centre at UNBC.

A further $180,000 is going to a research project led by a University of Alberta professor.

Dr. Nicola Cherry, the tripartite chair of occupational health with the Division of Preventive Medicine at UofA will look at the nature and compounds of the wood smoke, the effectiveness of respiratory protective equipment and determine whether wildland firefighters have more chronic lung disease than other people of the same age, gender and geographic location.

So far, about 50 B.C. Wildfire Service firefighters have taken part in this study. Alberta firefighters are also taking part.

A progress report on the initial phase of this project is expected in March 2020.