SPOKANE, Wash. – Studies show firefighters have an increased risk of cancer and now Spokane County firefighters are taking steps to change that.
“We're seeing so many young firefighters at young ages getting struck down with cancer,” explained Tony Nielsen, Spokane County District 8 fire chief. “And it all seems to be coming down to this absorption that we hope we can prevent."
Nielson said cancer has become one of the biggest hazards of being a firefighter.
"We're learning about it all the time, but it seems as though the contaminants are being absorbed through the skin,” he explained. “A lot of that is occurring around the neck, hands and even the groin area.”
Nielsen says firefighters can be exposed to these contaminants at any type of structure fire. In an effort to reduce their exposure, the department is providing a second set of turn out gear for all of their firefighters.
After firefighters return from a structure fire, they can take their turn out gear and throw it into an industrial sized washing machine. While that washes away contaminates on the dirty set of gear, the firefighters can use their clean gear for their next call of the day.
"It allows a rotation of gear whereas before we did not have that,” Chief Nielsen said. “They were stuck with that gear for the rest of their shift and for subsequent fires until they were able to get to one of the stations that had a washer.”
With plans to provide about 60 sets of new gear, it will cost about $160,000.
"We want our firefighters to have a long healthy safe career and enjoy their lives and families long after they leave,” Nielsen said.
Spokane City Fire Department has provided two sets of turn out gear to each of its firefighters for about a year now. Spokane Valley Fire Department practices this as well.