The Relationship Between Working Conditions and Indices of Stress and Cognitive Function in Wildland Firefighters

Date

2023-03-19

Authors

Muirhead, Katie

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Abstract

This study examined the relationship between working conditions and variables related to stress and cognitive function. A within-subject, observation study was conducted on 24 Wildland firefighters (9 F) across British Columbia between July to September of 2021 and 2022. A subset of participants (n=15) measured heart rate variability (HRV) using a chest-worn heart monitor. Perceived stress was measured on a 4-point scale. Cognitive function was measured subjectively, via 7-point scales, and objectively, via the psychomotor vigilance task (PVT). Working conditions were measured post-shift, including whether they conducted wildfire suppression that day (Y/N), were exposed to smoke (Y/N), and fire stage of control on a 4-point scale (i.e., out of control; being held; under control; other). Pearson correlation analyses were performed to identify the largest associates between variables. Stage of control had the greatest number of significant correlations to cognitive function, including subjective fatigue (r = 0.28, p < 0.001) and mean reaction time (RT) (r = 0.34, p < 0.001). The largest associates of both smoke exposure and wildfire suppression were cognitive function variables; subjective fatigue and median RT (Table 1). Indices of stress and cognitive function were significantly correlated to certain working conditions, thus warranting further investigation.

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Keywords

Wildland Firefighting, Working Conditions, Cognitive function, Heart Rate Variability, Stress

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