In the news: U of I study measures firefighter fatigue, health impacts

A row of firefighters mop-up smoldering coals in a smoky, wooded area by chopping up the dirt with axes and other hand tools

In 2015, three firefighters died after being trapped by a shift in wind direction while fighting a fire outside Twisp, Wash; Tom Zbyszewki, 20, Andrew Zajac, 26 and Richard Wheeler, 31.

Their deaths prompted Randy Brooks, a professor of Forestry, Rangeland and Fire Sciences at the University of Idaho;s College of Natural Resources, to study how fatigue during long, physically and mentally intense firefighting seasons impact firefighter alertness, decision-making ability, health, and overall safety. His reasons were both professional, and personal – his son, Bo Brooks, was also a firefighter on the Twisp River Fire.

“I think we need a paradigm shift in the way we think about fighting wildfires at all cost and place a greater emphasis on personal safety over protecting resources,” the elder Brooks said. “Trees grow back, homes can be rebuilt, but lives can’t be replaced.”

Read more about the study, which collects real-time health data from 18 smokejumpers, and has surveyed hundreds of wildland firefighters, on the University of Idaho website, at: https://www.uidaho.edu/cnr/research/stories/wildlandfirefighter

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