UMD/MFRI Research Team Explores Fireground Contaminants via FEMA Grant

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The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) awarded a $126,000 Fire Prevention and Safety grant to the University of Maryland (UMD), College Park to fund a study on fireground contaminant exposure control approaches utilized by fire departments regionally and nationally.  

Drs. Jamie McAllister and Jim Milke of the UMD Department of Fire Protection Engineering (FPE) will partner with Darl McBride, a Special Programs Section Manager at the Maryland Fire and Rescue Institute (MFRI), on the joint project. The 12-month study will include researching and facilitating workshops focused on identifying challenges faced by health and safety officers implementing post-incident exposure control and decontamination protocols.

"Firefighters are frequently at risk of exposure to toxins when they are working to put out a fire, even with their protective equipment," Milke said. "Repeated exposure to these toxins increases emergency responders' risk of incurring medical problems, including skin irritations and various cancers. The data obtained from this study will bolster our comprehension of this issue and help inform emergency responders of these risks."

A goal of the study is to develop action items which will direct future efforts to address challenges faced by Health and Safety (H&S) personnel in developing, implementing and managing their contaminant exposure control programs. 

“The primary goal of this research is to educate fire service H&S personnel on the requirements and current approaches being utilized regionally and nationally for post-fire and post-incident contaminant exposure control,” said McAllister.

McAllister, who is an FPE Assistant Research Scientist, will serve as the project manager responsible for tasks completed by the FPE research team. McAllister, inspired by her volunteer fire service experience, obtained her Bachelor of Science and Master of Science in Fire Protection Engineering. She sought her PhD in Toxicology to better understand fire contaminants and their effects on occupants and firefighters.

Milke’s principal areas of expertise involve smoke management, fire detection and analyzing the response of materials exposed to fire conditions. He earned his PhD in Aerospace Engineering and a Master of Science in Mechanical Engineering, both from UMD, in addition to a Bachelor of Science in Physics from Ursinus College.

Regional workshops from H&S personnel from the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia will be facilitated at MFRI during the course of the study.  Upon completion of the survey, a presentation will be held at the Maryland State Firemen’s Convention in Ocean City, MD.

The Maryland Fire and Rescue Institute (MFRI) of the University of Maryland, College Park is the state's training and education system for all-hazard responses. The Institute plans, researches, develops, and delivers quality programs to prepare agencies and individuals to protect life, property, and the environment.

Published October 26, 2021