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Heat research continues amid worst Louisiana wildfire season in a century


An LSUS graduate assistant takes readings during a research session in LSUS’s environmental chamber. LSU Health Sciences faculty member Cory Coehoorn, who is gratis faculty at LSUS, is researching heat trapped in firefighters’ clothing, the effects it has on the human body and how to redistribute that heat throughout the body.
An LSUS graduate assistant takes readings during a research session in LSUS’s environmental chamber. LSU Health Sciences faculty member Cory Coehoorn, who is gratis faculty at LSUS, is researching heat trapped in firefighters’ clothing, the effects it has on the human body and how to redistribute that heat throughout the body.

SHREVEPORT -- As Louisiana experienced record heat and a historic wildfire season, Dr. Cory Coehoorn continued his research into how extreme heat affects the human body.

Coehoorn, who is the director of the Ph.D. in Rehabilitation Science Program at the LSU Health Sciences Center and an LSUS gratis faculty member, is working to create a thermal heat map of the body in his latest research. With a particular focus on firefighters, Coehoorn is studying how the human body reacts to rapid heat stress – ultimately searching for ways to redistribute heat throughout the body and away from critical areas like the head.

“We’re studying what parts of the body get the hottest and what parts are the coolest,” Coehoorn said. “In addition, we’re also looking at what part of a firefighters’ equipment is the hottest. In our previous research, we’ve found that a person’s cognition is impacted during rapid heat stress, so we’re looking for ways to redistribute heat away from the head.”


This specific study analyzes test subjects in the LSUS environmental chamber, a climate-controlled enclosure that can alter temperature, humidity, and altitude among other variables. Test subjects in the chamber wear firefighter clothing and do specific exercises at high temperatures. The test subject swallows a capsule that measures core body temperature and wears a device that measures skin temperature, heart rate and other vital signs. A thermal camera displays where heat is distributed on the body. “All three of these categories give us a complete picture of heat and where it’s distributed,” Coehoorn explains. “This study in particular is to account for metabolic heat.


“Firefighting gear is designed to protect them from the elements – they aren’t going to be burned. But what happens is heat can’t escape the gear and clothing, and that trapped heat can affect the human body.”


The end goal of Coehoorn’s entire line of heat research, which he began in 2018, is to create a device or apparel that redistributes heat, making firefighting and other activities in extreme heat safer. “We’re in the creation stage as we speak – it’s an ongoing thing,” Coehoorn said. “We’ve been working on a solution for years. When you’re inventing and manufacturing something, you have moments of acceleration and moments of thinking. We just came out of a moment of acceleration, and now we’re thinking again.”


Coehoorn’s research comes during a summer in which the area has experienced record-breaking temperatures during July and August. Louisiana was under a statewide burn ban starting in early August and lasted through September. Wildfires have consumed more than 53,000 acres just in August, including swaths of Sabine Parish in western Louisiana.

The average acreage loss for the month of August is just 295 acres.

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