Australian Firefighters' Health Study
Funded by participating member agencies of the Australasian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council (AFAC) and the Department of Defence.
The Firefighters' Health Study issued its final report in 2014, at which time the cohort entered an inactive phase. As of 2020, funding has been secured to reactivate part or all of this cohort, for use in two related research studies. One explores the health impacts of smoke exposure on firefighters and other responders during the 2019/2020 bushfire event in Eastern Australia; the other explores health impacts of per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) exposures on firefighters.
In 2011, Monash was commissioned by the Australasian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council (AFAC) to carry out a national retrospective study of firefighters' mortality and cancer incidence known as the Australian Firefighters' Health Study. This study was prompted, in part, by the results of several overseas studies which had identified excesses of several types of cancers in firefighters. The aims of the study were to examine mortality and cancer among firefighters and investigate different subgroups, based on type of employment, duration of firefighting service, era of first employment/service, serving before/including or only after 1985, by the number of incidents attended and whether an individual was identified as having been a trainer.
Ethics approval for the study was granted by the Human Research Ethics Committees of Monash University, the State and Territory Cancer Registries, the Australian Institute for Health and Welfare (AIHW) and the National Coronial Information Service.
This study had an Advisory Committee whose membership was drawn from AFAC, fire agencies, trade unions and volunteer firefighter associations. The Advisory Committee provided support for, and information to, the researchers and a Technical Reference Group provided technical guidance to the researchers on the conduct of the study and on the draft report.
Agencies that contributed records of career full-time and part-time paid and/or volunteer firefighters to the study:
- Airservices Australia (ASA)
- Australian Capital Territory Fire and Rescue (ACTFR)
- Country Fire Authority (CFA)
- Department of Defence
- Department of Fire and Emergency Services WA (DFES WA)
- Fire and Rescue NSW (FRNSW)
- Metropolitan Fire and Emergency Services Board Victoria (MFB)
- NT Fire and Rescue Service (NTFRS)
- NSW Rural Fire Service (NSWRFS)
- Queensland Fire and Emergency Services (QFES)
The specific aims of the study were, where sufficient numbers permitted, to:
- Investigate differences in the overall death rate and rates for specific causes of death in Australian firefighters, divided into career full-time, part-time employed and volunteer firefighters, when compared to those of the Australian population. The outcomes of primary interest are deaths from cancer, cardiovascular disease, non-malignant respiratory diseases and traumatic injury.
- Examine differences in the overall cancer rate and rates of specific cancer types in Australian firefighters, divided into career full-time, part-time employed and volunteer firefighters, compared to the rates of the Australian population. The cancers of primary interest for men are: brain and central nervous system malignancies, melanoma, testicular cancer, prostate cancer, bladder cancer, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, multiple myeloma, leukaemia, cancers of the buccal cavity and pharynx, stomach, colon, rectum, mesothelioma and breast cancer and for women: cervical cancer, thyroid cancer and breast cancer.
- Compare the mortality and cancer incidence for subgroups within the cohort: by state for melanoma, ever a trainer versus not known to be a trainer, by duration of employment/service, by era of first employment/service, by the types and numbers of incidents attended and cut point in time (whether only employed before the introduction of diesel fire appliances).
- Consider investigating other health outcomes for which paid and volunteer firefighters may be at increased risk.
Study Advisory Committee
This study had an Advisory Committee whose membership was drawn from AFAC, fire agencies, trade unions and volunteer firefighter associations. In order to provide the necessary support to the researchers the Advisory Committee met six times during the course of the study.
Below are the contacts from organisations who assisted with the study and/or their representatives that attended Advisory Committee meetings:
ACTFR – Conrad Barr, Greg Harmey
AFAC – Naomi Brown, Stuart Ellis, Judy Gouldbourn
ASA – Charles Barnard, Andrew McKay, Juli Poole, Chris Quinn, Jayne Stetto
CFA – Jeff Green, Peter Langridge, Lex De Man
CFA Volunteers – Toddy Small
DFESWA – Leah Parlour, Karen Roberts, Rachael Robertson
FBEU – Claire Pullen (Fire Brigade Employees Union)
FRNSW – Alison Donohoe, Darren Husdell, Brendan Mott, Megan Smith, Mark Reilly, Luke Unsworth
MFB – Melissa Battisti, Martin Braid, Phil McInerney, Andrew McKay, Tiffany Simpson
NSWRFS – Derrick Oliver, Daniel Moroney
NSWRFSA – Ken Middleton (NSW Rural Fire Service Association)
NTFRS – Mick Ayer, Bruce Byatt, David Pettit
QFES – Iain Mackenzie, Mark Roche, Marie Daniec, Rob Walker, Ricky May, Wayne Weston
RAAF – Paul Crawford, Robert Paterson, Chris Taylor
UFUA – Brendan Angwin, Mick Farrell, Casey Lee, Joanne Watson, Peter Marshall
UVNT – Erina Early, Terry Trewin (United Voice NT Branch)
VFBV – Andrew Ford (Volunteer Fire Brigades Victoria)
Technical Reference Group
In order to provide technical support to the researchers, a Technical Reference Group (TRG) was established. The group provided guidance to the researchers on the conduct of the study and evaluated and commented on the proposed analytical methodology. TRG members were not all able to meet as a group but were sent copies of bulletins, the protocol and the statistical analysis plan for comments and suggestions and a draft of the final report.
The TRG members were:
- Robert D Daniels and previously Travis Kubale (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, USA)
- Alex Forrest (United Fire Fighters of Winnipeg, Canada, International Association of Firefighters)
- Tee Guidotti (Fulbright Visiting Research Professor, Institute for Science, Society, and Policy, University of Ottawa, Canada)
- Fabienne Reisen (Bushfire CRC and CSIRO Marine & Atmospheric Research, Australia)
- Fiskville Firefighters’ Health Study – Final Report
- Australian Firefighters' Health Study – Final Report
- Australian Firefighters' Health Study – Final Report Summary
- Defence Firefighters' Health Study Report
- Australian Firefighters’ Health Study: Further Analysis of Volunteer Firefighter Data
- Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Eight Bulletins were issued about of the progress of the study. These are available below:
If you have a complaint concerning the manner in which the Australian Firefighters' Health Study (Project Number: CF11/2982 – 2011001677) is being conducted, please contact:
Monash University Human Research Ethics Committee (MUHREC)
Building 3e Room 111
Monash University VIC 3800
Tel: +61 3 9905 2052
Fax: +61 3 9905 3831