SARATOGA SPRINGS – Skidmore College announced that it has received a $960,000 grant to conduct further research that will save the lives of firefighters.
The award is one of eight Fire Prevention and Safety Grants awarded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) last week. In total, over $3.8 million in grant funds was awarded between the eight grants.
“The focus of this grant is to inform the firefighters and the fire service community, about how research can make the work that they do safer and more effective,” Dr. Denise Smith, Director of the First Responder Health and Safety Laboratory and Professor of Health and Exercise Sciences at Skidmore College said.
The college has been conducting a wide-range of research related to firefighter health and safety for about 25 years Smith said.
The focus of the research has been largely on the cardiovascular strain of firefighting, and on the cardiovascular risk factors among firefighters and how they intersect Smith said.
“It’s absolutely life saving in terms of the acute risks they face,” Smith said. “And it’s also life changing, because when we can help firefighters understand how to take charge of their own health they are better firefighters, they are less likely to have an acute event, or occupationally related chronic issue from fighting fires and they are more likely to have a longer and healthier career and retirement.”
Cardiovascular events are the leading cause of acute line of duty death, Smith said. People tend to think the hazards firefighters face are injuries from burns, asphyxiation and buildings collapsing, she explained.
“We should do everything we can to prevent those, but it’s also true that far more firefighters die due to cardiovascular events on duty than die due to burn, asphyxiation or collapse combined,” Smith said.
This project will combine what has been learned from the college’s past research with what has been learned from research conducted on other occupational concerns, such as cancer or behavioral health, Smith said. She explained they are working to translate this research into actions the fire service can take to lessen or mitigate the risks.
“As part of this project we will have researchers working collaboratively with the fire service,” Smith said. “To create training materials, so that we can amplify the message that we’ve been publishing.”
Smith has published over 90 peer-reviewed papers about her work and research she said.
The majority of the funding from the Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program goes directly to individual fire departments, Smith said. She explained a portion of it is devoted to fire prevention and safety, which supports research activity like hers.
“Fire fighters across the country make a commitment to protecting their local community,” Smith said. “The assistance to firefighter grants recognizes that they should be supported by science, in achieving their mission.”
New York has 1,668 registered fire departments, according to a 2017 report from the State Comptroller’s office on Fire Protection in New York state. At the time of the report, New York had 18,000 paid firefighters and over 92,000 volunteer firefighters.
“Skidmore is honored to receive another FEMA Fire Prevention and Safety Grant Program award for Professor Smith’s work,” Dr. Marc Connor, President of Skidmore College said in a statement. “This funding supports the joint research of faculty and students, and embodies Skidmore’s commitment to collaborative inquiry and creative solutions to challenging issues.”
Connor called Smith’s research into firefighter health and safety inspiring.
U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko announced Skidmore College was awarded the grant, administered by the Department of Homeland Security’s Fiscal Year 2021 Fire Prevention & Safety Grant Awards program.
“Ensuring our brave firefighters are provided with state-of-the-art equipment and training is critical in keeping them and our communities safe,” Tonko said in a statement. “Our Capital Region’s colleges are the cutting edge of innovation and development in numerous fields, and I’m delighted to announce that Skidmore College has been awarded this federal funding to expand research on firefighter health and support our local fire departments.”