University of Idaho studies wildland firefighter's nutritional needs

Volunteer firefighters
Posted at 4:38 PM, Oct 18, 2022
and last updated 2022-10-18 18:38:17-04

IDAHO — Multiple wildfires burned in Idaho this year and some still continue to burn across the state. For months, firefighters have been trying to control them. Being a wildland firefighter seems to be turning into an around-the-clock job as more wildfires are burning year-round.

On top of the physical demands of wildland firefighters, they also need to make they are fueling themselves properly. A group from the University of Idaho teamed up to make sure while they are fighting these fires, they have the proper fuel and nutrition in mind.

“They were re-evaluating the large fire food contract and wanted a dietician perspective,” said Annie Roe, assistant professor and extension specialist and director of Eat Smart Idaho.

Roe said the research group at U of I sent a list of recommendations to the U.S. Forest Service, recommending changes to the menu firefighters chose from at fire camps.

“We started with a survey of wildland firefighters to see what they would choose for food specifically in their shift meal. The idea was to compare what they are choosing to what the contract is saying and see what are the educational opportunities,” Roe said.

Trying to come up with guidelines for a wide range of need, the U of I group started looking at micronutrient needs

Heidi Holubetz, a master's candidate and a part of the study group, is a seasoned firefighter and focused more on education surrounding food.

“In our diet culture especially, in recent years there’s been a lot of fear about consuming carbohydrates but the wildland firefighters are considered tactical athletes," she said. "All of the macronutrients are important in their own way but adequate carbohydrates have been shown in wildland firefighter research to be really important in maintaining work output and cognitive function throughout the day.”

The group hopes to work directly with food and drink vendors for wildland firefighters in the future.