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Better firefighting through science
Exercise scientist Denise Smith, Skidmore’s Class of 1961 Term Professor, is on sabbatical this year as co-leader of a research team studying ways to improve firefighter safety and performance. The project investigates the relationships among cardiovascular function, biomechanics, and the design of firefighting gear and clothing, with an eye to reducing heart attacks (the leading cause of line-of-duty deaths) and slip-trip-and-fall incidents (the top cause of line-of-duty injuries).
The team is working under the auspices of Illinois Fire Service Institute, which recently received a $900,000 grant from the federal Department of Homeland Security. Their results and recommendations will be distributed throughout the fire service. Along with Smith, the team includes researchers in kinesiology, medicine, community health, psychology, mechanical science, and engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, as well as others from Total Fire Group and International Personnel Protection.
In addition, Smith is a co-principal investigator on a $250,000 project of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. That study focuses on how on-scene rehabilitation (OSR) can help firefighters recover from the effects of strenuous work in heavy clothing and hot environments. Smith is testing whether OSR—that is, getting firefighters cooled down and increasing their fluid intake—can quickly rehabilitate them and enable them to resume their work at the scene.
According to Smith, OSR is widely recommended, but no scientific studies have documented its efficacy or determined which treatments work best. She says the goal of this study is to figure out “if one type of rehabilitation hastens physiological recovery and health and increases basic performance.” —AW