Newcastle: The impact of smoke

What does bushfire smoke do to your heart? A dedicated group of Hunter Medical Research Institute (HMRI) researchers are consulting with NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS) volunteers to find out.

Led by Professor Jay Horvat, Associate Professor Doan Ngo, Dr Tatt Jhong Haw and Dr Henry Gomez have spent the past few years working on understanding the impact of bushfire smoke on people’s health, specifically in rural and regional areas.

Why this focus? It’s in these areas that heart attack presentations went up by an alarming 93 per cent during the devastating bushfires in 2019 and 2020. Dr Gomez, who is a Deputy Captain in the Wallarah Rural Fire Brigade and has been volunteering with the organisation for over 10 years, says that the RFS is the perfect partner with which to conduct this much needed research.

He says, “Every year I participate in many hazard reduction burns that are carefully designed to minimise the risk of big bushfires. “The RFS conducts hundreds of these burns a year in NSW. They often result in prolonged exposure to bushfire smoke particulates.

“We would like to understand what the risks are to the volunteers, and what we can do to minimise those risks. “With around 72,000 volunteers in the NSW RFS alone, exposure to bushfire smoke is a big health issue that needs to be better understood.”