Cancer causing chemical in firefighter gear

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(ABC 6 News) – Firefighters put their lives on the line everyday, relying on their training and gear to keep them safe. But, is their gear really keeping them safe?

Recent studies have shown that the polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) has been linked to causing cancer in firefighters. 

This chemical is used to make their gear stain, water and grease resistant.

But, a Minnesota law, now in place for a year is saving lives by working to keep our firefighters safe. 

Everyday on the job, firefighters are at a higher risk for getting cancer. According to the CDC, firefighters are 9% more likely to get cancer and 14% more likely to die from cancer than the rest of the population.

MnFire has been advocating for firefighter safety, health and well being both on and off duty since 2016, and it takes these numbers seriously.

“I’d say, those numbers look small unless it happens to be you. And the fact is these numbers are being driven by the environments that our firefighters are subjected to. And MnFire is providing the education, mitigation and resources to help our firefighters combat these issues that are taking their lives much earlier,” said MnFire President George Esbensen.

MnFire helped to push for legislation at the capitol with lawmakers approving legislation for the Hometown Heroes Assistance Program which provides support both financially and mentally for all firefighters, full time and volunteer across the state. 

“Since the passing of the Hometown Heroes Assistance Program legislation, we have been able to do a lot of things including paying benefits to firefighters who are battling all kinds of physical ailments, cancer being the predominant one,” said Esbensen.

This week, in a joint statement, the International Association of Fire Fighters and the Metropolitan Fire Chiefs Association are urging firefighters to wear their turnout gear as little as possible because of a chemical that can cause cancer, with the hopes of replacing the old gear with new gear that is PFAS free.

However, Rochester firefighter Spencer Klemm says that the job doesn’t stop just because of a health risk.

“Yeah, I mean that’s always in the back of our mind, but at the end of the day we still have a job to do and we are always gonna do that first. We’ll do what we can to mitigate the risk of cancer,” said Klemm.

Like many departments, the Rochester Fire Department has a protocol after battling a blaze to limit their exposure to toxins.

“We do a gross de-con on scene. We try to leave as much as we can there, so we don’t bring it back to the station. Most of the time we’ll take a lot of our gear off, we’ll bag it up, keep it out of the cab. We’ll bring it back here. We break everything down. And we washing everything individually with the soap that we use,” said Klemm.

But, Klemm said that the Rochester Fire Department at the moment isn’t looking into buying different gear yet, but each firefighter has two sets of gear. That way when another call comes they have a clean set and the other set can get cleaned properly.