Four firefighters stand against a backdrop of flames. The scene is dark, and 2 young male firefighters hold a device with a long antenna
A partnership between UC and the State is funding 38 projects that will pair academic researchers with community-based experts to design immediate solutions to the climate crisis. One project aims to gather data on the cancer-causing chemicals wildland firefighters are exposed to as they battle more blazes in the wildland-urban interface. (Photo Credit: CalFire)

New UC-Backed Research Is Helping California Communities Respond to the Climate Crisis

'Derek Urwin and his fellow firefighters have a mordant quip about wildland fires that burn into developed areas: “That one took a couple of years off my life.”

“We say it jokingly, to shrug off a hard day’s work,” says Urwin, a Los Angeles County firefighter and adjunct professor of chemistry at UCLA. “But in reality, we can feel it.” He and his colleagues know it’s hazardous to spend day after day breathing in toxic smoke from burned out cars and buildings. They all know mentors who’ve gotten sick in retirement; they know cancer is the leading cause of death for firefighters nationwide.

“Basically, we know it’s bad, but we don’t know how bad,” Urwin says. That’s because most of the data on cancer in firefighters comes from urban areas, where crews wear heavy protective gear and face masks hooked to bulky air tanks, and where fires typically don’t take more than a few hours to extinguish. Not much is known about the long-term health risks of battling wildland blazes. Since they need to be able to move fast over rough terrain, wildland firefighters typically wear just a single layer of fire-resistant clothing and spend weeks at a time on the front lines — often without respiratory protection.'

Read the full story at University of California News

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