Fighting heat-related illness

Today the FBU and Union Learn are launching a vital health and safety initiative – our Heat Illness Preparation and Awareness (HIPA) course. Overexposure to heat can have a significant effect on a firefighter’s health, with an immediate risk of heat exhaustion or heat stroke.

Coroner reports from the last three tragic firefighter deaths in the UK raised concerns about long term damage from heat exposure. That’s why we’ve developed this course with experts from the University of Brighton and in collaboration with the TUC’s Union Learning Fund to ensure that firefighters aren’t facing heat overexposure.

The HIPA course

All firefighters are exposed to extreme heat, with an average of one to two incidents per month. For those involved in training, exposure is far more frequent, increasing the risk of heat-related illness. Instructors face extreme heat ten times a month on average, but this number can be as high as 27. Trainee firefighters can be exposed up to 5 times each week.

We’re determined to ensure all firefighters have the knowledge and training necessary to reduce their risk. We’ve received funding from the Department for Education for firefighters in England to receive this training, and the FBU is making this course available to all fire and rescue services across Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, to ensure no one needs to face this danger unprepared.

The first course class, available today, provides key information on how safely manage heat exposure and guidance on preparedness and cooling. We’re planning for another two stages and will be providing an accredited qualification for those who complete the course.

Preventing heat illness

On a standard day, the human body can expect to lose two litres of water through sweat. 45 minutes of exposure to extreme heat can lose a further litre for a firefighter. When rehydrating, it’s important to replace 150% what has been lost – so that’s 1.5 litres for each 45 minute exposure.

Firefighters can reduce their risk of heat illness by pre-cooling before being exposed to heat. Drinking 500ml of ice slush fifteen minutes before going into a fire can reduce a firefighter’s core body temperature throughout, reducing the likeliness of heat illness.

There’s a range of cooling methods used after facing a fire, but ‘light touch’ methods like cooling fans and sprays are relatively ineffective. Full cold water immersion is key to reducing the risk of heat illness. That’s easy enough at training centres with plunge pool facilities, but one of the key things firefighters can learn from this course is how to achieve this at an incident anywhere.

This is just a glimpse of what you can learn on this hugely important course. Talk to your local FBU representative to bring this training to your brigade.

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