HEALTHThe Effect of Radiant Heat on Firefighter’s Skin

The Effect of Radiant Heat on Firefighter’s Skin

By: Dr. Sanober Pezad Doctor, MD

“In a fire, you can plan everything out to the minute, and a minute before that, everything changes,” says Dan Felix. Indeed, the repercussions of being exposed to the fire are something every firefighter is aware of, yet he remains undeterred. Whilst I continue to stay in nothing but awe and gratitude to our heroes, let’s take a look into what exactly happens when you get exposed to radiant heat from the blazing fires. 

This means there are concerns not only about the heat obtained through physical contact or circulatory air currents encountered during a fire but also about the invisible electromagnetic waves that transfer heat. They can get absorbed by the skin, leading to an increase in skin temperature & can have subsequent effects on the entire body.

A study published in the British Journal of Industrial Medicine to record the effects of radiant heat was conducted in the late 90s. Six men were introduced to two fires, fuelled by wood from crates and pallets, emitting dense smoke and heat throughout a simulation ship model known as – ‘The Superheat!’

Researchers observed discoloration of the skin by smoke as well as redness and swelling of the ears or neck or both, sometimes with blistering. These changes were followed by peeling of the skin resembling the effect of sunburn. While these skin changes lasted about 48 hours, the men also experienced a singed feeling in the ears when working in the tanks.

This study also observed that apart from the great heat, the men were also exposed to ‘tar’ from burning wood fires. While protective gears have been designed and re-designed time and again to navigate burn prevention whilst still trying to maintain comfort and movement, many effects of radiant heat that can impact the body indirectly are worthy of mention.

These include:

Dehydration: Exposure to such high levels of radiant heat can cause excessive water loss from the skin, leading to dehydration. This can result in dryness, flakiness, and impaired skin barrier function, making the skin more susceptible to irritation and damage.

Inflammation and Redness: As noticed in the study, radiant heat can trigger an inflammatory response in the skin, resulting in redness, swelling, and discomfort (and this is without direct contact with the fires). It also has the capacity to exacerbate existing skin conditions, such as rosacea or eczema.

Accelerated Aging: It is well known that excessive exposure to radiant heat, especially in the form of ultraviolet radiation, can accelerate the aging process of the skin. 

Hyperpigmentation: Radiant heat can stimulate melanin production, leading to hyperpigmentation or darkening of the skin. This is particularly evident in individuals with a predisposition to conditions like melasma or post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation.

Long-term Damage: Firefighters frequently exposed to radiant heat are at higher risk of long-term skin damage. This includes the development of skin conditions and an increased likelihood of developing skin cancer.

Hence, it is crucial for firefighters to understand the impact of radiant heat on their skin.

References:

  1. Stevenson CJ. Effects of radiant heat in fire fighting instructors. Br J Ind Med. 1985 Jan;42(1):67-8. doi: 10.1136/oem.42.1.67. 
  2. Lei, Y., Wang, F., & Yang, J. (2023). An Extended Model for Analyzing the Heat Transfer in the Skin-Microenvironment-Fabric System during Firefighting. Materials (Basel, Switzerland), 16(2), 487. https://doi.org/10.3390/ma16020487

Dr. Sanober Pezad Doctor, also known as Mrs. Dr. Doctor, is a double-board certified dermatologist, & a leading expert in Integrative & Holistic Dermatology. She is the founder & creator of AGEnesis™- The Holistic Aging BlueprintBaby SkinWise™- the World’s 1st Audiovisual Skincare Guide for Parents & the popular YouTube series- ‘Dr. Doctor’. A Gold Medalist from medical school, Sanober holds multiple national and international awards, scholarships, research studies, and recognition for novel therapies to her credit. She is a proactive, compassionate medical practitioner with a thorough understanding of overall mind-body-spiritual wellness. She is also a simple mommy to the core and firmly believes that prevention is better than cure. Her ultimate goal is to help everyone be the healthiest version of themselves. Get a Free copy of her coveted ‘Glow from within’ Guide and subscribe to her weekly newsletter to get the latest updates on holistic health & skincare straight to your inbox.

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