Ninety percent of the firefighters who took part in the effort to extinguish the huge Carmel Forest conflagration a little over a year ago still suffer from at least one health problem caused by the mass catastrophe, according to new University of Haifa research.

According to the study of 272 firefighters, which was carried out using questionnaires, a third of them immediately developed a health problem as a result of their rescue work to put a halt to the fire, which killed 44 people and was the deadliest fire in the history of the state.

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The study began with questionnaires sent to the firefighters immediately after the event, and those results were compared with a recent follow-up questionnaire. Additional surveys will be conducted among the same population in the future to investigate long-term occupational health risks to firefighters.

Two-thirds of the firefighters said they felt an immediate threat to their lives during the fire and after it. Half of those complained of stress even weeks or months after the catastrophe. A third of those who complained from the outset about new health problems – including breathing difficulties – right after the fire, continued to note health complaints a week later. A small percentage, the researcher said, noted that they continued to suffer from respiratory symptoms for a long time.

Prof. Raphael Carel, head of environmental and occupational health at the university’s School of Public Health and one of the heads of the research, said that many of the firefighters worked for 16 hours nonstop to put the fire out. Often, they lacked suitable protective equipment, he said, and thus were at risk of being harmed.

“As a result of the Carmel fire, there remain a certain percentage of participants who have respiratory problems that testify to the need for continued follow-up and investigation of chronic health problems in this group,” concluded Carel.

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