Turnout Gear and Cancer

Issue 8 and Volume 13.

The continued coverage and awareness related to fire fighter occupational cancer is excellent-clearly, American fire fighters are more educated and aware as never before!

I received an email from a reader last night where the firefighter asked me “so we shouldn’t wear our bunker gear now?” I responded with much of the below that I wanted to share with you.

FirefighterNation: Potential Cancer Agent Seen in Firefighter PPE

It’s important to know that, due to our own standards, that “we” (the fire service thru NFPA) require a level of water repellency in gear. While the protective chemical product used years ago is no longer used, we still do require protection from water getting thru and into our gear. The reason is far more than just comfort (soaking wet gear), along with water weight, but also the potential for us to get “steamed” when operating in a fire, if the gear couldn’t keep water out.

The water repellency issue is far more than just fire fighters. These chemical products are used in kids and adult raincoats/outerwear, household paint, food wrappers (pizza boxes), furniture and pretty much whatever consumers purchase that repels water. As the “poppie” of 6 beautiful grand babies, I am concerned about anything related to the environment that may harm my kids-(and my wife, an environmental activist, reminds me each and every day)…and as a chief, concerned about our fire fighters….as all of us sit on furniture and walk on carpet (and breathe the air) with the water repellency products.

Fortunately, several fire associations, federal agencies as well as general consumer organizations are doing scientific based studies and research on the water repellency chemical issue and look forward to every bit of information that will help reduce the #1 killer of fire fighters-occupational cancer.

Additionally, I have also taken it upon myself to push the cancer issue in ways that we can control-and ask all to please do the same…. because while there are some things we cannot change immediately-there are many things we can change.

It is imperative that fire fighters, without excuse, always mask up, always fully gear up (no exposed skin-ever-and yes-always wear and use your gear!) , always decon after every fire, getting the soot off our faces, washing dirty gear, washing/showering up, using the diesel exhaust hoses in the firehouses (one of the largest manufacturers of exhaust removal systems has actually started a campaign to “hook up the hose” because so many do not-see below).

Please don’t think I am minimizing this issue-not by any means-and am very concerned. In addition to Paul’s situation, I am close, personal friends with dozens of fire fighters currently fighting cancer. There is little more horrible than what these fire fighters are going through.

We have all seen too many firefighters diagnosed with cancer who previously looked like the below fire fighters… (see below) – and that is a huge part of the problem. There is little we can individually do today to fix the consumer chemical issue, however every fire fighter, today can do lots to minimize our exposures to proven cancer-causing risks that we work around, and we respond to each day. And… for fire fighters that don’t follow the policies and recommended practices, every fire department has officers and chiefs who are there to educate …and enforce the policies.

Thanks to you Diane and for everyone’s efforts taking on the whole and entire issue of fire fighter occupational cancer. We are making progress with so much more to do…and so much we can do immediately.


Firefighting Foam Fact Sheet

PFOA Tunout Gear Fact Sheet

The Federal Role in the Toxic PFAS Chemical Crisis