Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Natural Resources (MNR)


Natural Resources

Committee Chair(s)

James Long


James Long


Joanna Endter-Wada


Judith Kurtzman


This report addresses exposure to smoke from wildland and prescribed fires encountered by wildland firefighters. Smoke from vegetation as well as off-gasses from equipment such as chain saws, pumps, and drip torches are accounted for. Section II provides an overview of industrial hygiene science and techniques. Section III is a discussion and literature review of the components in wildland smoke, and section IV identifies the health concerns associated with smoke inhalation and a review of the current literature on exposure to inhalation irritants. Section V covers research that has been done on wildland firefighter smoke exposure. Section VI is an overview of the Wildland Firefighter Smoke Exposure Study, a project I have managed since 2009. This final section describes the objectives, methods, data collection, and analysis of the study. In its entirety, this report can be used to identify locations, times, and firefighter activities that have a high probability of causing high exposures as well as to identify management actions that can mitigate these exposures.

Wildland firefighters work in a dynamic environment and are often faced with a variety of hazards from fire to fire and shift to shift. One of the most common, but often overlooked, hazards is exposure to potentially harmful levels of contaminants in wildland smoke. This may also be one of the least understood risks of wildland firefighting (Reisen et al., 2009). With a growing body of information regarding the potential health effects of vegetative smoke to respiratory and cardiovascular systems, it became apparent to United States Forest Service (USFS) fire management officials that more research needed to be done. The USFS realized the need for current, valid data to accurately assess the exposure wildland firefighters and personnel at fire camps experience during their work shift.

Unlike municipal firefighters, wildland firefighters do not wear respiratory protection equipment such as a self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA). Without SCBA, wildland firefighters are subject to exposure from a variety of inhalation irritants ranging from carbon monoxide, aldehydes, particulate matter, crystalline silica, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. Some of the compounds in wildland fire smoke are known or suspected carcinogens. Health effects include short-term conditions such as headaches, fatigue, and nausea, while long-term health effects may include an increased risk of cardio-vascular disease. In order to assess the long-term risks associated with wildland firefighting, a comprehensive study of exposure was necessary. By identifying the conditions and activities that lead to high exposure, firefighters and fire managers can be better prepared to reduce these exposures.

This study focused on wildland firefighters engaged in the suppression of wildland fires and working on prescribed fires primarily on federally-managed lands (forests and rangelands) throughout the United States. Study subjects included any firefighter employed by the following federal land management agencies: US Forest Service, National Park Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Indian Affairs, and the Bureau of Land Management, as well as employees contracted by these federal agencies. Firefighters employed by various states are also included in the study, as well as those engaged in initial attack and project fires. Study subjects also included fire support personnel who work at incident command posts (ICPs) and spike camps. Fire suppression and management of prescribed fires involves many different activities. In order to successfully account for differences in exposure among firefighters, these activities were monitored and recorded during the data collection phase.