Fire departments can fight cancer risks with clean gear

Source: The Akron Legal News

In recent years, numerous studies have suggested an increased rate of cancer among firefighters. But in 2010, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health began a broader study examining cancer diagnoses and deaths among 29,993 firefighters who worked in Chicago, San Francisco and Philadelphia between 1950 and 2009.

The findings suggested that firefighters are at a higher risk for cancers that affect respiratory, digestive and urinary functions than the general population. It also found that firefighters were twice as likely to suffer from mesothelioma, most likely from exposure to asbestos.

Currently, if a firefighter works a fire today they would have to wear the contaminated gear until the following morning when they are relieved.  Some fire departments have finally started requiring firefighters to wash exposed turnout gear after every 24-hour shift. The suits are washed in industrial-sized machines, called extractors.  An extractor costs $12,000 each. Each machine can wash three suits at a time, though the outer and inner layers have to be cleaned separately.

After they’re washed, the suits are hung on a specialized dryer. Though the dryers can be purchased for around $9,000, they can be built for about $1,000 apiece. Each can handle six turnout suits at a time.  It takes about three hours for a suit to dry completely.

However, that’s not enough.  Firefights should change immediately after an exposure.  Since each set of gear costs about $2,500, department may need to secure additional funding to do that.  As usual, it comes down to money at the expense of people.



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