New safety protocol to protect firefighters

Photo courtesy of the State Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Service
Firefighters demonstrate a new suggested practice of removing harmful contaminants from their turnout gear to reduce health risks associated caused by prolonged exposure to smoke residue and other harmful chemicals.

The New York State Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services and the Office of Fire Prevention and Control announced efforts to implement a new safety protocol for firefighters in order to decrease their exposure to cancer-causing contaminants.

“Smoke from every fire contains toxic chemicals linked to cancer and by taking basic steps to educate our brothers and sisters in the fire service, we can begin to change the culture and get the safe behaviors we are promoting into action,” said New York State Fire Administrator Francis Nerney. “State Fire is taking the lead in New York to help firefighters make the changes necessary for protecting their health”

The protocol includes firefighters rinsing off immediately after their work at a scene. They will be cleaned with a liquid soap solution and their gear will be bagged for transport. This practice will help to remove harmful contaminants and reduce the adverse health effects that arise from prolonged exposure. If they do not do this, there is the potential that they can carry harmful chemicals back to the firehouse or their homes which would result in cross-contaminating co-workers and family members. 

Due to the carcinogenic toxins found in smoke, firefighters are diagnosed with cancer at a rate nine percent higher and die from cancer-related deaths at a rate 14 percent higher than the general public, according to studies conducted by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. This new protocol has the potential to decrease firefighters’ exposure to these toxins by 85 percent.

State experts will visit local fire departments throughout the next year to provide training sessions on this new protocol with a live demonstration. These sessions will also provide information to firefighters about how to further protect their health, which will include a section on cancer awareness and prevention education.

“Decontamination is such an easy task to accomplish why would you want to expose yourself, other personnel or your family to the dangers we face in our job to protect others,” said New York State Association of Fire Chiefs Director Timothy Boel said. “Take the time, energy and effort to make the job you enjoy and have chosen to do the safest it can be.”