The Wildland Firefighter Exposure and Health Effect (WFFEHE) Study: Rationale, Design, and Methods of a Repeated-Measures Study

Ann Work Expo Health. 2022 Jul 2;66(6):714-727. doi: 10.1093/annweh/wxab117.


The wildland firefighter exposure and health effect (WFFEHE) study was a 2-year repeated-measures study to investigate occupational exposures and acute and subacute health effects among wildland firefighters. This manuscript describes the study rationale, design, methods, limitations, challenges, and lessons learned. The WFFEHE cohort included fire personnel ages 18-57 from six federal wildland firefighting crews in Colorado and Idaho during the 2018 and 2019 fire seasons. All wildland firefighters employed by the recruited crews were invited to participate in the study at preseason and postseason study intervals. In 2019, one of the crews also participated in a 3-day midseason study interval where workplace exposures and pre/postshift measurements were collected while at a wildland fire incident. Study components assessed cardiovascular health, pulmonary function and inflammation, kidney function, workplace exposures, and noise-induced hearing loss. Measurements included self-reported risk factors and symptoms collected through questionnaires; serum and urine biomarkers of exposure, effect, and inflammation; pulmonary function; platelet function and arterial stiffness; and audiometric testing. Throughout the study, 154 wildland firefighters participated in at least one study interval, while 144 participated in two or more study interval. This study was completed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health through a collaborative effort with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service, Department of the Interior National Park Service, and Skidmore College. Conducting research in the wildfire environment came with many challenges including collecting study data with study participants with changing work schedules and conducting study protocols safely and operating laboratory equipment in remote field locations. Forthcoming WFFEHE study results will contribute to the scientific evidence regarding occupational risk factors and exposures that can impact wildland firefighter health over a season and across two wildland fire seasons. This research is anticipated to lead to the development of preventive measures and policies aimed at reducing risk for wildland firefighters and aid in identifying future research needs for the wildland fire community.

Keywords: cardiovascular; hearing; kidney; pulmonary; wildfire.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Firefighters*
  • Fires*
  • Hearing Loss, Noise-Induced*
  • Humans
  • Inflammation
  • Middle Aged
  • Occupational Exposure* / adverse effects
  • United States
  • Young Adult