According to the CDC fire fighters have a 14 percent higher risk of dying from cancer, than the general U.S. Population. For Dunbar Fire Chief Chris Thornhill it reminds him of when fire fighters were being diagnosed with mesothelioma due to their exposure to asbestos in older buildings.
“This is something we ignore and the time to ignore is over,” said Thornhill. “It’s scary because you don’t know, fighting the fire you can see that in front of you. Ten years after you retire when this cancer becomes a real issue in your life, that’s something you just, you don’t think of but it’s real real scary.”
Newer homes and more specifically what they are made of is the main cause of the problem. Homes are not made out of natural materials anymore and everything from curtains to a couch can let off a toxic gas.
“Lot of that material, it settles onto the gear in a dust form and then when you’re moving around you’re breathing in those particles,” said Thornhill.
In Dunbar Chief Thornhill doesn’t want to wait until the next round of diagnoses, he’s working now to keep the guys at his station safe. Over the past few weeks he’s implemented a decontamination process to keep the toxins that are left after a fire, away from the station and the fire fighter’s homes.
“We’re trying to step up and learn as much as we can and hopefully what we’re doing we’re bringing awareness to the problem,” said Thornhill.
The Department applied for and got a grant recently that will help them get a gear extractor to help clean their uniforms in a more efficient way.