Fire Fighting in Canada

Comment: September 2019

Bunker gear must be cleaned

August 19, 2019 
By Grant Cameron

Please note: this is my final column as editor of Fire Fighting in Canada as Laura Aiken has returned from maternity leave and is once again at the helm of the magazine. Thanks to everyone who extended a helping hand to me over the year.

In the old days, firefighters would return from a call, dust themselves off, hang up their gear and wait for the next alarm.

My how things have changed – and for the better, of course.

We now know that contaminates, chemicals and toxins that cling to gear are a danger to the well-being of firefighters and, over time, cross-contamination can cause a host of illnesses and fatal diseases.

One of our longtime columnists, Ed Brouwer, who pens the Trainer’s Corner articles for Fire Fighting in Canada, has been writing about this concern for years. In our August issue, he wrote a piece that explains how contaminants can make their way from bunker gear to the fire hall, to personal vehicles and, eventually, into the homes of firefighters.

Packaged with this issue of the magazine, we have a special supplement on gear and equipment. Kirk Hughes, deputy fire chief of the M.D. of Taber Regional Fire Department in Alberta, has written a thoughtful piece on why it’s important for firefighters to properly clean their gear and truck after a fire. He outlines some of the decontamination procedures that firefighters should follow and offers insight into how bunker gear should be removed, cleaned and transported to the fire station for cleaning.

The importance of this issue cannot be understated. A 2018 study from the University of Fraser Valley found that Canadian firefighters are killed by cancer about three times more often than the general population, and that 86 per cent of fatal claims were cancer-related. A study by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health estimated that firefighter lifetime cancer risk is about 14 per cent greater than the general public.

Recently, a fire station in Montréal-Nord in Quebec implemented new decontamination measures to protect firefighters. Firefighters are now hosed off with detergent before leaving a scene – even in the dead of winter – and must take a shower within the first hour of returning to the station.

The statistics don’t lie. Too many active-duty firefighters are dying of cancer and others are dying too soon into retirement.

Departments have a responsibility to do all they can to mitigate a firefighter’s exposure to contaminates. Likewise, firefighters have a duty to protect themselves from contamination transfer by ensuring their gear is properly cleaned. Hopefully, this important issue will continue to get the attention it so rightly deserves.

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