Understanding firefighter beliefs and behaviors related to cleaning and decontaminating bunker gear after a fire is an essential first step in devising an effective health intervention to reduce risks.
Firefighters face substantial risks of exposure to carcinogens and other toxins. These exposure risks result most often from dermal absorption during a fire or inhalation of off-gassing particles (volatile organic compounds and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) from contaminated bunker gear during removal.
A recent study1 examined firefighter attitudes, norms and perceived barriers to field decontamination processes. Data for the study was collected from a survey of 482 firefighters from four South Florida fire departments.
Firefighters fully recognize the benefits of post-fire cleaning and decontamination. The challenge, though, lies in getting them to act on this knowledge. A successful behavioral health intervention for firefighter decontamination needs to overcome two major potential challenges.
- The perceived norm among a group of peers.
- The perceived job or organizational barriers that inhibit the adoption of acknowledged decontamination practices.
In a future article, we’ll look at a study that addressed these challenges with messaging based on behavioral change theory.
1Harrison, T.R., Wendorf Muhamad, J. Yang, F., Morgan, S.E., & Talavera, E., Caban-Martinez, A., & Kobetz, N. (2018). Firefighter attitudes, norms, beliefs, barriers, and behaviors toward post-fire decontamination processes in an era of increased cancer risk. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene, 15(4), 279-284. DOI: 10.1080/15459624.2017.1416389
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