Physiological determinants of performance during simulated shipboard firefighting activities

Principal InvestigatorDavid Hostler, PhD

Funding Source: Office of Naval Research

Abstract: Shipboard fires can result in injury, loss of life, and reduce fleet readiness. A review of 15 major fires occurring both in dock and at sea reported a loss of over $4 billion dollars, which does not reflect the loss of the USS Miami and the USS Bonhomme Richard. More recently, a fire aboard the USS Antietam resulted in 13 crew members being injured while operating in the Philippine Sea. When fires occur, responsibility for extinguishing that fire falls to crew who typically serve in non-firefighting roles. Therefore, it is critical to understand the physiologic responses of sailors during firefighting and damage control operations and the physical attributes (e.g., strength power, aerobic capacity) required to ensure safety and operational readiness.  We have previously reported that structural firefighting results in near maximal heart rates and hyperthermia after relatively short exposures. 

Among structural firefighters, sudden cardiac death is the most common cause (46%) of line of duty death. These fatalities are often attributed to a reduction of myocardial blood flow immediately following fire suppression. Certain shipboard firefighting activities (e.g., direct fire suppression) are similar to structural firefighting and require high aerobic fitness to protect against this pathology, but other activities (e.g. carrying extinguishers and foam buckets) may be prolonged and rely more on strength or power.

Damage control is an essential function of all crew members at sea but the literature on shipboard firefighting is scant and incomplete. Studies in this area are more than 20 years old and most were conducted in foreign navies using protective ensembles that differ from those used today.

It is also unknown how long sailors can perform these tasks before becoming too fatigued to safely continue. Finally, one study has adequately documented physiologic responses to isolated shipboard firefighting activities but no study has examined the recovery interval or performance in a second bout of work.

We propose to address these gaps in the literature through the following specific aims.

Specific Aim #1 Document the physiological responses to simulated shipboard firefighting tasks and examine the predictors of performance in a cohort of male and female subjects.

Specific Aim #2 Using best fireground rehab practices from the structural firefighting literature, we will determine if a structured 10 min recovery period following 20 minutes of simulated shipboard firefighting activity allows subjects to adequately complete a second work interval.