AUSTIN (KXAN) — The amount of wildfire smoke firefighters breathe in and how it affects their health is at the heart of a major study.

Apple is teaming up with Dr. So-Min Cheong, a Texas A&M researcher and associate professor in the Public Service & Administration Department at the Bush School.

“This is investigating the impact of wildfire smoke on the health of firefighters, and we’re particularly zooming into the heart,” said Dr. Cheong, the lead researcher of the study.

Apple Watch is equipping 100 firefighters with the Texas A&M Forest Service with the devices to monitor their heart rate and rhythm, sleep, blood oxygen, activity data, and more as firefighters battle wildfires.

For three months, firefighters will also wear an air quality monitor and complete surveys related to sleep, activity, and wildfire smoke-related symptoms.

The data will be collected and analyzed by Dr. Cheong, engineers, statisticians and cardiologists from Stanford Medicine to “figure it out whether the heart conditions vary alongside the smoke and that smoke measure will come from the air quality monitor that they (firefighters) are carrying around while they’re suppressing the fire,” said Dr. Cheong.

“Our firefighters are actually really excited about this,” said Erin O’Connor with the Texas A&M Forest Service. “Wearing a watch isn’t that big of a deal but the greater implications of the study, though, I think, is what really is exciting to our people.”

Wildfire season begins in spring in Texas and summer in California, and up to 200 firefighters in these locations will join the study.

“We have a wildfire problem here in Texas. It maybe doesn’t get the national media attention that some of the fires out west like in California, they have very large, very intense fires. We have the same thing here in Texas,” said O’Conner.

The Texas Forest Service said in 2022, Texas had more than 12,000 wildfires across the state, with 264 days of elevated activity.

Dr. Cheong researches the social and health consequences of environmental disasters and climate change.

When asked why research this wildfire smoke’s effect on heart health, Cheong said, “Because as climate change continues, and we see more frequent wildfires, in addition to the intensity of the fire fires, especially in California, and now we see that phenomenon in Texas as well. I want to get get ahead and examine these episodic events and come up with some solutions that could help people prepare for climate change.”

The research is part of the Investigator Support Program launched by Apple two years ago. The program provides researchers with Apple Watch devices, enabling them to break new ground in health research, including the scientific understanding of the heart.