Study could help firefighters keep their cool

Researcher advises Toronto department to use tubs of cold water at fire scenes to reduce effects of heat stress

Tubs of cold water at fire scenes could help reduce heat-related deaths and injuries among firefighters, according to a new Toronto study.

"The advantages someone can gain by simply putting their arms and hands in cool water to control their own heat stress is paramount," said Dr. Tom McLellan, who helped guide the research.

The study involved 40 Toronto firefighters who were pushed to the limits of heat exhaustion in order to test their productivity and core temperatures.

David Dunt, one of the Toronto firefighters who volunteered to suit up in full bunker gear, put on his heavy oxygen tank and then did heavy work, attached to a series of heart monitors and thermometers.

"They would elevate the temperature in the room ... and basically see how long I could keep going mentally and physically ... basically, until I collapsed."

The result is a new outlook on how firefighters or other people working in heavy protective clothing should protect themselves in high heat.

Researchers advised monitoring the body temperatures of working firefighters, implementing better "cooling off" procedures, and limiting how long firefighters are exposed to high heat.

Right now, firefighters take breaks at fire scenes, drink lots of fluids, remove their coats and monitor their heart rates.