This study aimed to identify specific health and well-being issues that women firefighters may experience as part of their daily working practices. Issues identified from this under-represented population can drive future research, education, and strategy to guide safety and health practices.
A total of 840 women firefighters from 14 separate countries (255 United Kingdom and Ireland, 320 North America, 177 Australasia, and 88 mainland Europe) completed the survey over a 4-month period. Questions related to general health and well-being and role-specific health concerns, gender-related issues, and available exercise facilities.
Women firefighters in North America reported a higher prevalence of lower back (49%) and lower limb (51%) injuries than all other groups. North American respondents reported more heat illnesses (45%) than respondents from other places (36%). Although many participants did not respond, of those who did, 39% thought the menstrual cycle (199/512) or menopause (55/151) affected their work, and 36% were concerned for their ability to meet future job demands. Sixteen percent felt confident they could complete the role after 60 years of age. Women firefighters identified a lack of strength and conditioning support (50%) or lack of gym access (21%). There appears to be poor availability of female-specific personal protective equipment, with availability greatest in the United Kingdom (66%) compared with the sample as a whole (42%).
There is a need for female-specific strength and conditioning support and facilities to decrease injury and illness risk and improve longevity. Research and education into gynecological issues, heat exposure, and their effects on women firefighters’ fertility and cancer risk is required.
To read this article in full you will need to make a payment
Purchase one-time access:Academic & Personal: 24 hour online accessCorporate R&D Professionals: 24 hour online access
One-time access price info
- For academic or personal research use, select 'Academic and Personal'
- For corporate R&D use, select 'Corporate R&D Professionals'
Subscribe:Subscribe to Women's Health Issues
Already a print subscriber? Claim online access
Already an online subscriber? Sign in
Register: Create an account
Institutional Access: Sign in to ScienceDirect
- Reproductive hazards of fire fighting 1. Non-chemical hazards.American Journal of Industrial Medicine. 1991; 19: 433-445
- Musculoskeletal lower limb injury risk in army populations.Sports Medicine – Open. 2016; 2: 22
- Maternal age and fetal loss: Population based register linkage study.BMJ. 2000; 320: 1708-1712
- Occupational cooling practices of emergency first responders in the United States: A survey.Temperature. 2018; 5: 348-358
- Rescuers at risk: A systematic review and meta-regression analysis of the worldwide current prevalence and correlates of PTSD in rescue workers.Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology. 2012; 47: 1001-1011
- PTSD symptoms and suicidal thoughts and behaviors among firefighters.Journal of Psychiatric Research. 2017; 84: 277-283
- Crushed ice ingestion—A practical strategy for lowering core body temperature.Journal of Military and Veterans’ Health. 2012; 20: 25-30
- World fire statistics. International Association of Fire and Rescue Services.2017 (Available:)https://www.ctif.org/sites/default/files/ctif_report22_world_fire_statistics_2017.pdfDate accessed: March 19, 2019
- National Athletic Trainers’ Association Position Statement: Exertional heat illnesses.Journal of Athletic Training. 2015; 50: 986-1000
- Current depression among adults — United States, 2006 and 2008.Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. 2010; 59: 1229-1235
- Heat Illness in Athletes: The dangerous combination of heat, humidity and exercise.Sports Medicine. 2004; 34: 9-16
- Physical fitness and cardiac risk factors of professional firefighters across the career span.Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport. 2002; 73: 363-370
- Acute stress disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder, and depression in disaster or rescue workers.American Journal of Psychiatry. 2004; 161: 1370-1376
- Alcohol use among firefighters in the Central United States.Occupational Medicine. 2012; 62: 661-664
- Alcohol use and problem drinking among women firefighters.Women’s Health Issues. 2017; 27: 632-638
- Thermal response to firefighting activities in residential structure fires: Impact of job assignment and suppression tactic.Ergonomics. 2018; 61: 404-419
- Injury among a population based sample of career firefighters in the central USA.Injury prevention. 2013; 19: 393-398
- Obesity and incident injury among career firefighters in the central United States.Obesity. 2013; 21: 1505-1508
- The health of women in the US fire service.BMC Women’s Health. 2012; 12: 39
- Maternal and child health among female firefighters in the U.S.Maternal and Child Health Journal. 2018; 22: 922-931
- Cancer Incidence Among Male Massachusetts Firefighters, 1987–2003.American Journal of Industrial Medicine. 2008; 335: 329-335
- Relationship between occupational stress and work-related musculoskeletal disorders in Korean male firefighters.Annals of occupational and environmental medicine. 2013; 25
- The effect of age on fitness among female firefighters.Occupational Medicine. 2017; 67: 528-533
- Lifetime traumatic experiences and their impact on PTSD: A general population study.Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology. 2013; 48: 525-532
- Sleep disturbances predict long-term changes in low back pain among Finnish firefighters: 13-year follow-up study.International Archives of Occupational and Environmental Health. 2015; 88: 369-379
- Physiological responses to the menstrual cycle: Implications for the development of heat illness in female athletes.Sports Medicine. 2002; 32: 601-614
- Correlates of suicidality in firefighter/EMS personnel.Journal of Affective Disorders. 2017; 208: 177-183
- Reproductive hazards of fire fighting. 2. Chemical hazards.American Journal of Industrial Medicine. 1991; 19: 447-472
- Respiratory function in active firefighters.American Journal of Industrial Medicine. 2001; 40: 55-62
- Prevalence and distribution of musculoskeletal disorders in firefighters are influenced by age and length of service.Journal of Military, Veteran and Family Health. 2017; 3: 33-41
- Risk factors for miscarriage from a prevention perspective: A nationwide follow-up study.Journal de Gynecologie Obstetrique et Biologie de La Reproduction. 2014; 121: 1375-1385
- Determinants of the development of post-traumatic stress disorder, in the general population.Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology. 2014; 49: 447-457
- An examination of the benefits of health promotion programs for the national fire service.BMC Public Health. 2013; 13: 805
- Cancer incidence among firefighters: 45 years of follow-up in five Nordic countries.Occupational and Environmental Medicine. 2014; 71: 398-404
- Prevalence and risk of asthma symptoms among firefighters in São Paulo, Brazil: A population-based study.American Journal of Industrial Medicine. 2009; 52: 261-269
- A Comparison of deployed occupational tasks performed by different types of military battalions and resulting low back pain.Military Medicine. 2013; 178: e937-e943
- A qualitative study on the experiences of female firefighters.Work. 2013; 45: 97-105
- Influence of paternal age on the risk of spontaneous abortion.American Journal of Epidemiology. 2005; 161: 816-823
- What do we know about ageing at work? Evidence-based fitness for duty and health in fire fighters.Ergonomics. 2007; 50: 1897-1913
- Examining anxiety sensitivity as a mediator of the association between PTSD symptoms and suicide risk among women firefighters.Journal of Anxiety Disorders. 2017; 50: 94-102
- Occupational exposure to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and elevated cancer incidence in firefighters.Scientific Reports. 2018; 8: 2476
- Environmental exposures and adverse pregnancy outcomes: A review of the science.Reproductive Sciences. 2008; 15: 631-650
- Risk of cancer among fire fighters in California , 1988–2007.American Journal of Industrial Medicine. 2015; 729: 1-15
- Ankle restrictive firefighting boots alter the lumbar biomechanics during landing tasks.Applied Ergonomics. 2017; 65: 123-129
- The ageing Australian firefighter: An argument for age-based recruitment and fitness standards for urban fire services.Ergonomics. 2014; 57: 612-621
- Chronic occupational exposures can influence the rate of PTSD and depressive disorders in first responders and military personnel.Extreme Physiology & Medicine. 2016; 5: 8
- Fire service instructors ’ working practices: A UK survey.Archives of Environmental & Occupational Health. 2018; 0: 1-9
- Practical pre-cooling methods for occupational heat exposure.Applied Ergonomics. 2018; 70: 26-33
- Physiological and psychological responses in fire instructors to heat exposures.Journal of Thermal Biology. 2016; 58: 106-114
- Early assessment of cancer outcomes in New York City firefighters after the 9/11 attacks: An observational cohort study.Lancet. 2011; 378: 898-905
Emily R. Watkins, BSc, PhD, is a physiologist at the University of Brighton. She completed her PhD, working with Fire Service Instructors to investigate their heat tolerance and immunological responses to frequent heat exposures.
Anthony Walker, PhD, is a Station Officer, Australian Capital Territory Fire & Rescue service, Canberra, Australia. His research centered on preparing firefighters/tactical populations to work in extreme environments to explore physical preparation through tailored, evidence-based conditioning programs and safe operating procedures.
Eric Mol, MSc, is an occupational/exercise physiologist. He developed the role-based physical abilities test for Dutch police officers and helped to create the periodical preventive medical test for Dutch firefighters. He is a Research & Development Advisor at the Dutch Safety Board.
Sara Jahnke, PhD, is Director and Senior Principal Investigator, Center for Fire, Rescue & EMS Health Research within the National Development & Research Institutes. She focuses on cardiovascular risk factors, cancer, injury risk, mental health, and women in the fire service.
Alan Richardson, BSc, PhD, is Principal Lecturer, Exercise and Environmental Physiology, University of Brighton. He focuses on tolerance to hypoxia/severe heat exposure. He has led research projects with the National Fire Service investigating the health/thermal loading of fire fighters and instructors.
Published online: March 28, 2019
Accepted: February 22, 2019
Received in revised form: February 7, 2019
Received: September 4, 2018
This research did not receive any specific grant from funding agencies in the public, commercial, or not-for-profit sectors.
© 2019 Jacobs Institute of Women's Health. Published by Elsevier Inc.