The More Fires Firefighters Are Exposed to, the More Heat Resistant They Become

As firefighters are exposed to more and more fires, their bodies evolve a tolerance for those inhospitable environments

Photo: Brad Gillette

Veteran firefighters are able to withstand the uncomfortable conditions of their fire-ravaged work sites better than people who have no experience in those potentially-deadly environments, new research finds. Over time, it seems, firefighters develop a tolerance for extreme heat and become more adept at dealing with the stress of working while surrounded by flames.

To put firefighters' abilities to the test, researchers recruited two groups of 51-year-old men: one composed of experienced firefighters, another made up of physically fit, non-firefighters, Science World Report says. They asked the men to perform various tasks while exposed to extreme heat in the lab. Physically, the two participant groups expereinced similar strain, but the mental differences between firefighters and non-firefighters were pronounced. Only the non-firefighters reported that the exercises were "extremely challenging and tiring," Science World Report reports. 

These results, the researchers think, would likely translate to newbie firefighters. Veterans, in other words, would lead the charge while newbies may sweat it out until they develop a tolerance of their own. 

Other groups are known to have developed similar tolerance for extremes, except in the opposite thermal direction. In this article about death-by-coldOutside describes the adaptions that people's hands make in the cold weather: 

Were you a Norwegian fisherman or Inuit hunter, both of whom frequently work gloveless in the cold, your chilled hands would open their surface capillaries periodically to allow surges of warm blood to pass into them and maintain their flexibility. This phenomenon, known as the hunter's response, can elevate a 35-degree skin temperature to 50 degrees within seven or eight minutes.

Were firefighters to start a fire fighter nation, or decide to have children only with other firefighters, perhaps, eventually, there would emerge a line of people with "firefighter's response," or a super-human ability to take the heat.  

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