AUTHOR: Sreenivasan Ranganathan

Firefighter at a scene with a lot of smoke

Fire Protection Research Foundation publishes a literature review report on firefighter exposure to fireground carcinogens

The Fire Protection Research Foundation (FPRF), the research affiliate of NFPA, recently published a comprehensive literature review research report on the “Fireground Exposure of Firefighters.” The objective of the project was to assimilate the existing peer reviewed literature into a framework to understand the matrix of carcinogen exposure risks that firefighters face while performing their job tasks on the fireground. This examination focused specifically on carcinogenic exposure on the fireground, and the final report from this study can be found on the FPRF website. Research on the epidemiologic relationship between cancer and firefighting has been a focus of several recent cohorts and meta-analytic studies in the last decade. While the overall cancer risk among firefighters is estimated to be around 9-14% higher, as compared to the general population, the increased risk for individual cancers is often much higher and firefighters have been found to develop cancer at a younger age than the general population. Ongoing long-term efforts such as the prospective multicenter Fire Fighter Cancer Cohort Study ( and the National Firefighter Registry (NIOSH, 2020) dive deeper into the  relationships between exposure and risk with more detail. Beyond cancer, exposure on the fireground has also spurred other health implications including cardiovascular, respiratory, and reproductive challenges for both female and male firefighters. A wide variety of exposure studies have been published in the last decade with many examining known and suspected carcinogens present on the fireground. Studies vary significantly in terms of data collection methods (e.g., biological sampling, active or passive air sampling, personal sampling devices such as a silicone dosimeter), type of incident (e.g., wildland fire, room and contents fire, training, vehicle fire, hazmat incident), and locations. Some look at regional differences as building materials vary both by locale and time of construction (e.g., legacy vs. modern construction). Understanding the nuances of exposures and risk in the literature will help to inform prevention and intervention efforts for firefighters. Given the significant growth in research on this topic, FPRF contractedthe Centre for Fire, Rescue, & EMS Health Research, NDRI Ventures, led by Dr. Sara Jahnke and her team, to conduct a systematic review of existing literature. The objective was to outline the current state of the science, summarize the findings, and identify gaps in the literature. A total of 75 articles (with about 68% being conducted in the last decade) were finally identified in the analysis. This number was arrived at after screening a larger number of articles using the inclusion criteria established for this project scope. Eligible articles included: any peer-reviewed published journal article that reported specific chemicals (or groups of chemicals) in body fluids (blood, urine, semen, and breastmilk) or monitored in the air attributed to fire smoke exposure. Only carcinogenic chemical exposures specific to the fireground were included. Each study reviewed had one set of study level variables that were applied and tabulated to both biomonitoring and environmental monitoring. Within each category, tables are grouped by International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) chemical classification. Group 1 chemicals are defined by IARC as “carcinogenic to humans.” Group 2A are “probably carcinogenic to humans”. Group 2B are “possibly carcinogenic to humans” and Group 3 are “not classifiable as to their carcinogenicity to humans.” For biomonitoring studies, significant gaps were identified for fire instructors, fire investigators, aircraft rescue and firefighting (ARFF) firefighters, industrial firefighters, and recruits. It was also noted that future research should focus on examining the impact of the changing fire environment as the products of combustion in fires have evolved over the years. The gap analysis identified several areas of needed research within environmental monitoring including studies of carcinogens through wildland fires, exposures through electrical/transformer fires, ARFF exposures, and training fires. Additional research by type of data collection such as through gear samples and passive sampling devices was also identified as a need. Finally, it was determined that additional research on major events is needed through real-time environmental monitoring. This project report provides a strong foundation for the ongoing work that is being done to understand what firefighters are exposed to on the fireground.  It will serve as a valuable resource as IARC reevaluates the risks of firefighting, for groups fighting for cancer presumption, and for researchers identifying gaps in the literature. Clearly, the fireground, by its very nature, is a high-risk environment with a number of carcinogenic exposures for any responder on the scene. Understanding these risks is an important foundation for understanding health and environmental impacts and for identifying and promoting mitigation and prevention efforts.
Green buildings

Research Foundation webinar on “Fire Safety Challenges of ‘Green’ Buildings and Attributes”

In 2012, the Fire Protection Research Foundation (FPRF) published a literature review related to fire safety challenges of ‘green’ (sustainable) building materials, systems (technologies) and features. The aim of that work was to: identify documented fire incidents in ‘green’ buildings define a specific set of elements in ‘green’ building design, including configuration and materials, which, without mitigating strategies, increase fire risk, decrease safety or decrease building performance in comparison with ‘traditional’ construction identify and summarize existing best practice case studies in which the risk introduced by specific ‘green’ building design elements has been explicitly addressed and compile research studies related to incorporating building safety, life safety and fire safety as an explicit element in ‘green’ building indices, identifying gaps and specific needed research areas. Since 2012, there have been several major fire events, which involved ‘green’ materials, systems, and features (collectively, ‘green’ attributes) in buildings. Green design features have been associated with photovoltaic panels and roof materials, lightweight timber frame buildings, and combustible insulation materials. This webinar will present highlights from a comprehensive information review of how the landscape of fire safety challenges associated with “green” attributes of buildings has developed since 2012. It is based on a global information search into the following: fire events involving “green” and/or sustainable building materials, systems, and features emerging “green” building materials, systems, and features and research, regulatory changes, engineering approaches, risk mitigation strategies, and firefighting tactics associated with fire challenges with “green” and/or sustainable building materials, systems, and features. While the research is comprehensive in scope, it is not exhaustive in detail, given the extent of advancement in these areas that has occurred since 2012. And, while significant advancements have been made, gaps remain, and strategies for proactively incorporating fire performance into the development of new “green” building materials, systems, and features (product development) are lacking; the tools to proactively assess the fire performance of “green” building materials, systems, and features at the product level (e.g., fire performance testing), and as installed in buildings, are lacking; and a broader building regulatory framework and design philosophy for achieving sustainable and fire resilient (SAFR) buildings are also lacking. The final report from the most recent research effort is available here. Register for this webinar today. Visit for more upcoming NFPA & FPRF webinars and archives. When: Wednesday, April 14, 12:30 p.m. Eastern Time. Presenters: Brian Meacham, PhD, PE, Meacham Associates, and Margaret McNamee, PhD, Lund University.  This webinar is supported by the Research Foundation 2021 Webinar Series Sponsors: APA – The Engineered Wood Association AXA XL Risk Consulting Johnson Controls Reliable Automatic Sprinkler Co., Inc. Telgian Engineering and Consulting The Zurich Services Corporation

Research Foundation webinar recording on “Combustible Gas Dispersion and Detector Location Analysis in Residential Occupancies” is now available

There have been a handful of fuel gas explosions in the last five years including incidents that occurred in three rowhouses in northwest Baltimore in Aug 2020, in the Merrimack region of Massachusetts in 2018, and in Silver Spring Maryland in 2016. Listed fuel gas detectors and alarms exist, but there is no installation standard. Firm requirements are needed for installation of fuel gas detectors in residences and other occupancies. A new NFPA standard, NFPA 715 Standard for the Installation of Fuel Gases Detection and Warning Equipment is currently under development and will cover the selection, design, application, installation, location, performance, inspection, testing, and maintenance of fuel gas detection and warning equipment in buildings and structures. The Fire Protection Research Foundation facilitated a research project on combustible gas dispersion and detector location analysis in residential occupancies. The project was led by a research team at Gexcon US, and the deliverables from the study were presented in the Research Foundation’s most recent webinar on March 10, 2021. The research included a literature review of the existing guidance for combustible gas detector location and installation in residential occupancies, and computational fluid dynamics (CFD) simulations to clarify and strengthen the technical basis for combustible gas detector installation criteria in residential occupancies. CFD simulations were conducted to quantitatively evaluate gas detector performance as a function of placement in residential occupancies. Natural gas and liquefied petroleum gas releases were simulated in different residential structures, and gas concentrations are tracked at numerous potential detector locations within these structures to evaluate which locations are most effective for reliable and early detection. The full recording of this webinar is now available here. Visit for more upcoming NFPA and FPRF webinars and archives.  
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