The FBU report cover page
23 Nov 2020

Minimising firefighters’ exposure to toxic fire effluents

Anna Stec
Fire Brigades Union (FBU).

An independent report from the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan), commissioned by the FBU,  As a best practice report it aims to help protect firefighters’ health by highlighting some of the risks and common sources and suggesting preventative measures for minimising exposure to contaminants and best practice for the decontamination of FRS personnel and firefighting equipment after exposure to toxic fire effluent.

It provides background information, statistics, resources and actions vital for improving firefighters’ health and well-being, keeping them safe and preventing the contamination which otherwise will lead to serious health conditions resulting in either life-changing problems and/or premature death.




Foreword by Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary

As firefighters, we all know of a colleague or former colleague that has been diagnosed with cancer or another serious illness – and many will have lost their lives. But here in the UK, there is a frightening lack of research into the effects of the firefighting job on the long term health of those on the front line. 

That is what led the Fire Brigades Union to commission independent, ground-breaking research, led by Professor Anna Stec from the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan), into the link between firefighters’ occupational exposure to toxic fire effluents, and cancer and other diseases. 

This report not only provides evidence of the heightened risk faced by firefighters through their work, but also delivers clear and authoritative guidance to fire and rescue services across the UK about the measures they can take to minimise firefighters’ exposure to contaminants. 

The report details how firefighters face danger from breathing and ingesting contaminants long after a fire has been extinguished – and how these toxic fire effluents can be absorbed by the skin. It demonstrates where current Fire and Rescue health and safety practices are failing, builds on existing good practice and sets out a path to a safer future. 

In producing this report, Professor Stec and her team not only summarised available scientific evidence through a comprehensive literature review, but also conducted contaminant testing on-site at a number of fire and rescue service stations in the UK, analysing over 1000 collected samples. The team also surveyed over 10,000 firefighters and analysed the range of decontamination practices implemented by fire and rescue services in the UK and around the world. 

We believe that the scientific study and basis for the production of this guidance will also be of value to those with a broader interest in the exposure of firefighters to toxic fire effluents and debris. 

We are pleased to note that ahead of UCLan’s report release, the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee recommended that the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) implement its recommendations on improving firefighters’ work environments. In response the government confirmed that it would instruct HSE to monitor the research and to ensure fire and rescue services identify risks to firefighters. 

The research is jointly funded by UCLan and the Firefighters 100 Lottery. Buying tickets for the lottery remains the best way to support the next stage of this vital work which requires more in-depth testing of firefighters’ work environments, and is already underway in a number of fire stations and training centres across the country. Everyone who supports the lottery has helped to support this vital research.

We are extremely proud to have commissioned this ground-breaking project, and we dedicate it to all those in the fire and rescue service whose lives have, and continue to be, effected by cancer and other diseases.

Health and safety is not a luxury, and we must all do what we can to make work safer for firefighters: Remember the dead, fight for the living.

Matt Wrack

FBU general secretary


About the Author:

Professor Anna Stec is a world leader in the area between fire safety and public health. She brings a diverse portfolio of research interests including quantification of toxic hazards in fires, understanding the factors that affect fire gas toxicity, and the relationship between the physiological effects of the concentration and dose of different toxicants. Prof Stec was the Scientific Coordinator for the “Toxicological and Environmental Aspects” workpackage of the EU Flaretex COST Action.

She was one of only two UK academics appointed to Dame Judith Hackitt’s Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety, where she highlighted the need to introduce regulation on smoke toxicity. She was selected as an Expert Witness to the Grenfell Tower Inquiry. She was appointed to Scientific Advisory Group to oversee investigation of soil contamination and adverse health effects following the Grenfell Tower fire. She also presented crucial evidence to the UK Parliament’s Environmental Audit Committee for their report on “Toxic Chemicals in Everyday Life”.

Prof Stec is a member of several scientific and conference programme committees and journal editorial boards. She is an external examiner and peer reviewer for the Government of Alberta (Canada) and Danish Agency for Science and Higher Education. She is a Fellow of both the Institution of Fire Engineers (FIFireE) and the Royal Society of Chemistry (FRSC), chartered scientist of the Science Council and an expert of the British Burn Association. She is also UK’s designated principal expert on the ISO Fire Threat to People and the Environment subcommittee (ISO TC92/SC3).



Dr Taylor Wolffe Postdoctoral Research Associate at the University of Central Lancashire. Anna Clinton PhD Researcher at the University of Central Lancashire. 

The website encountered an unexpected error. Please try again later.