Date of Award

Spring 5-10-2021

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Respiratory Therapy

First Advisor

Ralph (Chip) Zimmerman

Second Advisor

Rachel Culbreth

Third Advisor

Laryssa Frederick


BACKGROUND: Firefighters are exposed to numerous chemicals, fumes, and particulate matter on a regular basis. Current research shows a notable correlation between the number of years exposed to these chemicals, and the presence of respiratory related symptoms in firefighters. PURPOSE: The aim of this study was to determine if a significant positive correlation exists between the number of years in service as a firefighter and the development of respiratory symptoms. METHODS: An online survey utilizing the St. George’s Respiratory Survey was used to determine if there is a positive correlation between the number of years a fireman has served and the frequency of developed respiratory symptoms. Respiratory symptoms listed in the survey included coughing, shortness of breath, sputum production, and wheezing. Telephone, email, and Facebook were used to recruit fire departments within a large southern metropolitan area. Both active and retired firemen were included in the study. Inferential statistical tests included a Spearman’s correlation test and Whitney-Mann U test to determine if an association existed between years of service, respiratory symptoms, use of respirators and respiratory symptoms. RESULTS: A total of 43 surveys were completed and recorded. Among all respondents, 88% (N = 38) of were male, 4.7% (N = 2) were female, and 7.0% (N = 3) were unidentified. 48.8% (N = 21) of participants were between the ages of 45-54 years, 32.6% (N = 14) were 35-44 years, 4.7% (N = 2) were 25-34 years and 18-24 years, respectively, and 7.0% (N = 3) accounted for unidentified age. Spearman’s correlation test for a computed score of respiratory symptoms (M 2.74, STD ± 2.85) was p = 0.81, suggesting no significance in correlation for the presence of respiratory symptoms. In addition, a Spearman’s test was used to examen each of the symptoms individually, those results indicated no significant correlation between number of years in service and the presence and frequency of respiratory symptoms (coughing r = 0.014, p = 0.93, phlegm production r = 0.030, p = 0.856, shortness of breath r = 0.007, p = 0.97, and wheezing r = 0.099, p = 0.549). Wheezing showed the most significant results but had a weak positive correlation (r = 0.099 p = 0.549) with the number of years in service. This could suggest an existing correlation between certain respiratory symptoms and the line of work involved in a full-time fireman; however, more research is needed to support this conclusion. Examining the correlation between the use of respirators and respiratory symptoms, a Mann-Whitney U test was used to determine the prevalence in respiratory symptoms in those that used a respirator and those that did not (“YES” N = 28, “NO” N = 11, and N/A N = 4). Results showed no significant relationship between those that use and do not use a respirator and developed respiratory symptoms. CONCLUSION: The study findings support the conclusion that developed respiratory symptoms are idiopathic in nature. More research is needed to further determine the source of respiratory symptoms, particularly in those involved with fumes, chemicals, and particulate matter.

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