Industrial Electronics

Model compares how interventions can slow the spread of COVID-19 among firefighters during disasters

06 August 2020

Researchers from Colorado State University have created a model that can be used by the USDA Forest Service and fire managers to demonstrate the risks of various firefighting scenarios during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Larimer County and Wellington firefighters mop up a spot fire area on the Elk Fire, Oct. 18, 2019. Source: Bill Cotton/Colorado State University PhotographyLarimer County and Wellington firefighters mop up a spot fire area on the Elk Fire, Oct. 18, 2019. Source: Bill Cotton/Colorado State University Photography

The simulation is a model of how COVID-19 is spread among a changing firefighter population during wildfire incidents. The model analyzes a range of scenarios with different infection transmission rates and the percentage of infected arriving firefighters and fatality rates.

The model was applied to real firefighting population data from three major wildfires: Highline, LolPeak and Tank Hollow. It is not intended to predict real numbers, rather it is designed to compare scenarios and analyze the large and small effects of various interventions. This provides insights into the benefits of two risk mitigation strategies: screening and implementing social distancing at the camps.

Aggressive screening as soon as firefighters arrive at a camp would reportedly reduce the spread of infection, but those benefits likely diminish the longer a fire incident goes on. Meanwhile, during longer fire campaigns, aggressive social distancing would be more effective at reducing infections. Aggressive social distancing methods include remote briefings, dispersed sleeping camps and the module as one concept. This concept is a social distancing adaptation where the crew operates as normal but isolate from each other.

The team plans to make an extended model to create an interactive dashboard for agencies that can provide real-time modeling and risk assessment. They are also working on another model that is better suited to analyze the season-long implications of COVID-19 outbreaks as they spread across multiple fires and geographic distances.

A paper on this research was published in Fire.

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