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Skidmore College

Smith, Fehling to help set standards for firefighter safety

January 22, 2011
Denise Smith

Denise Smith

Professors of exercise science Pat Fehling and Denise Smith (who is also Class of 1961 Term Professor), are collaborating with researchers at UCLA (The David Geffen School of Medicine the Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science) to help establish guidelines for the health and safety of firefighters. The project is supported by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Science and Technology Directorate.

The team will consist of a consortium of academic, industry, and government partners on the agency's PHASER (Physiological Health Assessment System for Emergency Responders) program, which draws on the expertise of UCLA, Skidmore College, Zephyr Technology, a company that develops physiological-status monitoring products, and the NASA Ames Research Center, which has extensive experience with astronaut-monitoring systems.

The UCLA team will use wireless health technologies to remotely monitor firefighters in action and develop metrics to validate and interpret their findings.

The results will help researchers analyze firefighters' health risks before, during, and after response operations; develop national guidelines to optimize exercise and training programs; and manage health and safety in the field to mitigate fatalities due to cardiovascular events.

"Firefighters experience heightened levels of physiological stress, such as strain on the cardiovascular and respiratory systems," said Dr. Christopher Cooper, principal investigator for the program and a professor of medicine and physiology at the Geffen School of Medicine. "The PHASER program will help us identify health risks and better understand challenges facing firefighters in the field."

The team will initially obtain physiological measurements in the UCLA Exercise Physiology Research Laboratory and Skidmore College First Responder Laboratory to develop protocols for firefighter assessment and exercise training, including tests to assess respiration and aerobic ability.

Team members will also collaborate with regional and national fire services on the project to develop risk profiles and prioritization in the work environment. This research will help individual firefighters and incident commanders recognize health and safety issues in the field early on in order to initiate preventive interventions such as exercise training, pre-hydration and active cooling methods.

In addition, the data may lead to the development of new equipment worn by firefighters in the field.

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