Although the burnt sections of the Carmel Forest, that was devastated by the
country’s worst-ever wildfire a year ago, are beginning to show green signs of
life, the health of firefighters and policemen continue to show effects from the
tragic event that killed 44 people.
Researchers at the University of
Haifa’s School of Public Health are carrying out a health study of those who
fought the fire and tried to rescue victims.
A total of 204 firefighters
and 83 police officers from throughout the country were located and interviewed
about their symptoms during and after the conflagration, exposure to smoke and
So far, the researchers have found that 87 percent of
participants had at least one symptom during rescue work; the most common
complaint was eye irritation, with 77% reporting on it and 71% mentioning
fatigue. Twenty-seven percent of participants reported that at least one symptom
continued in the months after the fire. More than 80% of the firemen and 35% of
police wore respiratory protection while responding to the fire; the most common
reasons cited for not using a respirator were that one was not available (34%)
or that the wind was blowing the smoke in the opposite direction. The
firefighters worked for an average 18.4 hours with no sleep.
half said their personal safety was moderately to severely at risk, and 49% felt
at moderate to severe risk of losing their lives. A quarter of participants (17%
of firefighters and 44% of police) reported at least one acute stress-related
symptom such as persistent difficulty sleeping, intrusive thoughts and avoidance
behaviors after the fire. Police were 3.5 times more likely to report symptoms
of post-traumatic stress disorder than firefighters.
researchers will continue to follow those they interviewed to ensure there are
no lasting health effects.
Initial start-up funding of the “Carmel
Cohort” study came from the Environment and Health Fund. Dr. Eric Amster from
the Harvard School of Public Health, who was the lead investigator, is currently
a a Fulbright postdoctoral researcher in Haifa.CONSCIOUS INFO PROCESSING
How conscious information processing by the brain is different from unconscious
processing has long puzzled psychologists, philosophers and neurobiologists. Now
Hebrew University researchers have more than a clue and published their findings
in a recent issue of the journal Psychological Science.
is whether there is any role for conscious awareness in information processing
or is it just a by-product, like the steam from the chimney of a train engine,
which is significant but has no functional role. The study was headed by Prof.
Leon Deouell from its Center for Brain Sciences and Prof. Dominique Lamy from
the psychology department and conducted by TAU research student Liad Mudirk and
HU research student Assaf Breska.
People are not consciously aware of
most of the input of their sensory systems. Yet subjectively, conscious
awareness dominates our mental activity.
“One of the dominant theories in
cognitive sciences and psychology posits that parts of the information perceived
without awareness may be processed to a certain extent,” said Deouell. “Yet to
bind the different parts of a complex input into something meaningful and
coherent requires conscious awareness. To test this theory, the research team
ran a study in which they presented participants with pictures of natural scenes
including some human action, like a picture of basketball players jumping to
reach a ball. In other tests, the same scenes were presented – except that the
central object was replaced by an unlikely object such as a watermelon instead
of a basketball. The participants viewed the pictures through a mirror
stereoscope, a simple device that allowed the research team to present the
pictures to only one eye.
“At the same time, the other eye viewed rapidly
flickering patterns of colors which drew the subjects’ attention so they were
not aware for many seconds that anything was [being] presented to their other
eye. This allowed the researchers to measure how long it takes normal and
unusual scenes to ‘win the competition’ against the flickering pattern and break
“We found that participants became aware of the unusual
scenes earlier than to the usual scenes,” said Deouell. “The conclusion was that
even before the participants were aware of the existence of the picture, the
semantic relationships between parts of the scene were interpreted.”
study shows that, counter to previous theories, integration is not the
prerogative of conscious awareness but is achieved even without
The study expands the realm of unaware processes, yet shows
that conscious awareness is not a meaningless luxury – it allows us to deal with
novel and unexpected situations.