We studied cross-seasonal changes in pulmonary function and respiratory symptoms in 52 wildland firefighters in Northern California. The mean cross-seasonal change in forced expiratory volume in 1 second (FEV1) was - 1.2% (95% confidence interval [CI] - 0.5%, - 2.0%) with a corresponding mean change in forced expiratory volume (FVC) of - 0.3% (95% CI 0.4%, - 1.0%). Decreases in FEV1 and FVC were most strongly associated with hours of recent fire-fighting activity (P = .002 and .01, respectively). When the study group was divided into three categories based on recent fire-fighting activity, firefighters in the high activity category (mean +/- SE, 73 +/- 7 hours of fire-fighting in previous week) had a - 2.9% (130 mL) change in FEV1 and a - 1.9% (102 mL) change in forced vital capacity (FVC). There was a significant cross-seasonal increase in most respiratory symptoms evaluated. Several symptoms (eye irritation, nose irritation, and wheezing) were associated with recent fire-fighting. These findings suggest that wildland firefighters experience a small cross-seasonal decline in pulmonary function and an increase in several respiratory symptoms. Research is under way to identify the fire conditions and specific components of exposure that produce pulmonary irritants, and to examine the potential reversibility of acute pulmonary change.
(C)1991 The American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine