How munching ice can improve firefighter safety

As firefighters tackle moorland blazes in Greater Manchester, scientists at the University of Brighton are suggesting a way for crews to stay cool – eating ‘slushed’ ice.

PhD researcher Emily Watkins and Alan Richardson, Principal Lecturer in Sport and Exercise Science, have been working with the Fire Service over the last six years to find ways of reducing core body temperatures of firefighters and, in turn, the risk of heat stroke, which can cause disorientation, fainting, organ failure and in some extreme cases death.

They conducted laboratory-based study to investigate cooling strategies and found that ingesting an ice slurry solution was the most successful way to lower body temperatures before exposure to great heat. This research forms just one small part of their work in the field of firefighter safety.

Photo of PhD student EmilyEmily said: “With the current heatwave and the physically arduous tasks faced by the firefighters, keeping hydrated and cool can be incredibly difficult, increasing their risk of heat illnesses. Resting in a shaded area to consume ice drinks can help with both of these issues. This is especially important given the long periods of time firefighters are working to tackle the blazes.”

Due to the expense of running a large amount of ice slurry machines, the Fire Service use very small ice cubes that can be eaten rather than the formula favoured by the University. East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service Training Centre and The Fire Training College are among the centres now implementing this method.

Emily said she and University researchers emulated a real fire situation while conducting the study: “We compared ice slurry ingestion to different pre-cooling methods. The participants had 15 minutes of pre-cooling, then walked intermittently in a heat chamber in protective clothing for 45 minutes.

“The study found that 500ml of ice slurry consumption prior to exposure reduced core body temperature before the exercise, and helped it stay lower during the exercise. It was the only effective pre-cooling method. Consuming ice is much more effective than just drinking cold water, as it can absorb more thermal energy in the melting process.”

Emily added that research at other higher education institutions also pointed to the efficiency of ice slurry consumption. This research will benefit the teaching of firefighting going forward – and the wellbeing of firefighters.

Emily said: “For instructors that frequently experience heat exposure, helping to reduce the overall thermal load that they experience could aid their long term health.”

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