Title: An evidence-based approach to protect public health during prolonged fires

Authors: James Stewart-Evans; Andrew Kibble; Laura Mitchem

Addresses: Public Health England, Centre for Radiation, Chemical and Environmental Hazards, Seaton House, City Link, London Road, Nottingham, NG2 4LA, UK ' Public Health England, Centre for Radiation, Chemical and Environmental Hazards (Wales), Cardiff Metropolitan University, Western Avenue, Llandaff, Cardiff CF5 2YB, UK ' Public Health England, Centre for Radiation, Chemical and Environmental Hazards, 3 Piccadilly Place, London Road, Manchester, M1 3BN, UK

Abstract: Fires pose a potential risk to public health from exposure to products of combustion. The default initial public health advice is often for people to shelter indoors and minimise exposure. Controlled burn strategies are used when active fire-fighting is impossible or to minimise environmental impacts, but operational guidance recognises that the protection of people should take precedence. Prolonged fires extend the duration of potential public exposure. Effective incident management requires a multi-agency operational response that is informed by public health risk assessments. This paper sets out a universal approach, focused on assessing and minimising acute risks to health. Using England as an illustration, it discusses the differing roles of responders, the necessity of active exposure assessment and health surveillance, and criteria for decision-making and risk mitigation. When environmental monitoring is undertaken, health-based screening levels can aid risk assessment and day-to-day incident management; their operational application deserves further evaluation and development.

Keywords: prolonged fires; combustion products; smoke; controlled burns; emergency response; emergency management; exposure assessment; health surveillance; public health risks; risk assessment; risk management; fire-fighting; public protection; environmental monitoring; incident management.

DOI: 10.1504/IJEM.2016.074881

International Journal of Emergency Management, 2016 Vol.12 No.1, pp.1 - 21

Received: 19 Sep 2014
Accepted: 14 Oct 2015

Published online: 19 Feb 2016 *

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