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Wildland Fire Fighters:
Exposure Assessment and Carcinogenic Effects

A FEMA-Funded Research Project  

Page created: Monday, September 27, 2021 | Last Updated: Monday, September 27, 2021 

Overview of the Wildland Fire Fighters Study:

Wildland firefighters are exposed to multiple carcinogens including but not limited to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), formaldehyde and benzene in smoke from wildland and wildland-urban-interface (WUI) fires. In addition to smoke inhalation, wildland firefighters are exposed to carcinogens absorbed through their skin.

Cancer is a leading cause of fire service morbidity and mortality in municipal firefighters, but it has not been possible to conduct an adequately sized epidemiologic study to directly measure cancer rates in wildland firefighters, although based on their exposures we expect increased cancer rates. Since cancer has a long latency period between exposure and disease onset, measurements are needed now that can identify which exposures are causing carcinogenic effects and that can also determine the effectiveness of new interventions on a much shorter time interval. 

Project Specific Aims:

1. Evaluate acute exposure to carcinogens during wildland and WUI responses. We will focus on wildland firefighters working for state departments, volunteer fire districts with predominantly wildland and WUI fire responses, and hand crews of county fire departments that also respond predominantly to wildland and WUI fires.

2. Measure biomarkers of chronic carcinogenic effect. The study participants will include incumbent wildland firefighters and new recruit firefighters.

Study Timeline: ​

Anticipated Impact:

The proposed research will provide essential information on exposure to carcinogens in wildland firefighters and mechanisms by which these exposures increase cancer risk. The detailed evaluation of exposures will inform exposure-reduction interventions.

Women Fire Fighter Study Team:

Dr. Jeff Burgess

University of Arizona
Project Co-PI 

Shawn Beitel

University of Arizona
Research Specialist / Project Co-Leader

Sally Littau

University of Arizona
Biomarker Lab Coordinator

Andrew Stafford

University of Arizona
Project Coordinator

Dr. Alberto Caban-Martinez

University of Miami
Co-Investigator / DCC Director

Dr. Tiffany Lipsey

Colorado State University

Dr. Matt Rahn

Wildfire Conservancy

Dr. Natasha Schaefer Solle

University of Miami
Co-Investigator / DCC Director

Dr. Kat Navarro


Dr. Miriam Calkins


Paola Louzado Feliciano

University of Miami
Central IRB Analyst /
Regulatory Affairs

Simi Oduwole

University of Miami
Research Support Specialist