BACKGROUND: On 4 October 1992, a cargo aircraft crashed into apartment buildings in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Fire-fighters and police officers assisted with the rescue work.
OBJECTIVES: To examine the long term health complaints in rescue workers exposed to a disaster.
METHODS: A historical cohort study was performed among police officers (n = 834) and fire-fighters (n = 334) who performed at least one disaster related task and reference groups of their non-exposed colleagues (n = 634 and n = 194, respectively). The main outcome measures included digestive, cardiovascular, musculoskeletal, nervous system, airway, skin, post-traumatic stress, fatigue, and general mental health complaints; haematological and biochemical laboratory values; and urinalysis outcomes.
RESULTS: Police officers and fire-fighters who were professionally exposed to a disaster reported more physical and mental health complaints, compared to the reference groups. No clinically relevant statistically significant differences in laboratory outcomes were found.
CONCLUSIONS: This study is the first to examine long term health complaints in a large sample of rescue workers exposed to a disaster in comparison to reference groups of non-exposed colleagues. Findings show that even in the long term, and in the absence of laboratory abnormalities, rescue workers report more health complaints.