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UBC Theses and Dissertations

A novel approach to understanding cognitive fatigue and sleep deprivation in Canadian wildland firefighters Jeklin, Andrew


Wildland firefighters are subject to prolonged and irregular shifts which can have detrimental effects on sleep and increase fatigue. Fatigue and sleep deprivation can reduce information-processing resulting in slower reaction times, poor decision-making, situational awareness, and hazard recognition. At present, current research on fatigue and sleep in firefighters is lacking and limited to laboratory studies. The main goal of this study was to provide insight and understanding into the impact the current wildland firefighting schedule has on the emergence of cognitive fatigue in an effort to guide future interventions that aim to improve occupational health and safety amongst wildland firefighters. This study aimed to objectively and subjectively measure sleep quantity, quality and fatigue throughout a 17-day firefighting deployment amongst firefighters in British Columbia, Canada during the fire season. During the deployment, 39 firefighters’ sleep was assessed using wrist actigraphy and subjective questionnaires. Fatigue was assessed using a cognitive performance test known as the psychomotor vigilance test. Our analysis revealed that sleep quantity was suboptimal during both fire and non-fire days. Total sleep time and sleep efficiency was less on fire days compared to non-fire days. Firefighters reported being significantly sleepier towards the end of their 14-day deployment. Our results also demonstrated that firefighters continued to report high levels of sleepiness and poor quality of sleep throughout their rest days immediately following their work deployment. Firefighters performed significantly poorer on cognitive performance tests and reported significantly higher levels of fatigue and decreased alertness near the end of their 14-day work deployment. Our results provide valuable insight into the development of fatigue across a 14-day work schedule and into the 3-day rest period for wildland firefighters. Our study highlights that firefighters may still be fatigued, sleep deprived and inadequately rested prior to their work deployment. Fire agencies and researchers should target future interventions and studies that aim to improve and manage sleep and fatigue during firefighters’ work and rest days.

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