In California, wildland fires are about as common as, well, the Golden State’s sunshine.

But as the potential for longer fire seasons and more devastating blazes grow, the physical and mental toll on firefighters themselves continues to escalate.

Brent Ruby, a professor in the University of Montana Department of Health and Human Performance, has logged more than 25 years of experience documenting such impacts. He will share his research insights to raise awareness of the unique health and safety issues faced by wildland firefighters as part of a Department of Kinesiology event. Ruby will present his “Mapping the Comprehensive Physical Demands of Wildland Firefighters: A 25+ Year Field Assignment” talk at 4 p.m. on Tuesday, April 4, at Jack H. Brown Hall, Room 102 (JB-102).

“As residents of Southern California, many of us live in areas with a high fire risk, and we are fortunate to have firefighters with such a strong commitment to serving and protecting our communities,” said Jason Ng, associate professor of kinesiology. “To better understand our roles and responsibilities in fire prevention and protecting our environment, we might first begin to learn about the occupational demands of firefighters. Dr. Brent Ruby is a leading expert in this area of research, and we’re very grateful for his generous offer to come share his insights with us.”

Ruby earned his Ph.D. in exercise physiology from The University of New Mexico, and a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology and exercise science from Seattle Pacific University. He is also the director of the University of Montana Center for Work Physiology and Exercise Metabolism.

His research interests include nutritional strategies during ultra-endurance work and sports competition, muscle metabolism during and after exercise, the use of stable isotope tracers for the measure of water turnover and energy expenditure, and issues surrounding heat stress during arduous work. Ruby has also worked most closely with the U.S. Forest Service and the wildland firefighter community for more than two decades.

He also wrote a children’s book, Wrango and Banjo: On the Fireline,” (with an accompanying coloring book) that tells the story of a fire crew battling wildfires, with the goal of helping the children of firefighters better understand the demands of their parents’ job.

He has extensively studied hydration challenges, nutrition and energy demands, heat-related injuries, seasonal adaptations, and rhabdomyolysis, a medical condition associated with heat stress and prolonged physical exertion, resulting in the rapid breakdown, rupture and death of muscle, among other topics tied to the arduous strain of firefighters.

Being away from loved ones can also exacerbate firefighters’ performance.

“They have issues being away from their families,” Ruby said during a 2021 Fireline podcast episode,Burnout.” “A lot of times they have stress that develops because of that. There are issues with periodic smoke inhalation, there’s compromised sleep. And so, you take all of those things, and you pack them into a snowball, and you throw it right at them day after day after day. … Some days the stress is going to get to them, some days the sleep is going to get to them. All those stresses pooled together creates this sort of composite overarching stress.”

He also discussed his research during a 2021 “Insights from 25 Years Chasing Wildland Fire Crews” webinar for the American College of Sports Medicine’s Brown Bag Series in Science.

“We’ve tried to address a wide spectrum of topics in the pursuit of paving the way to making this occupation as safe as we can possibly suggest to the (firefighting and forest service) agencies,” he said during the webinar.

“The Department of Kinesiology is excited for Dr. Brent Ruby to come speak to our campus about his research and experience with the physical demands of firefighters,” said Nicole Dabbs, CSUSB Department of Kinesiology chair and professor.

For more information about the College of Natural Sciences degree programs, which include a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology with a concentration in exercise science, visit the Department of Kinesiology homepage