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Sault fire service debuts new PFAS-free gear

May 14, 2024 
By The Canadian Press


May 14, 2024, Sault Ste. Marie, Ont. — Sault Ste. Marie Fire Services received a shipment of new bunker gear earlier this week, which amounted to way more than a simple change of wardrobe.

During a Thursday afternoon press conference, Chief Peter Johnson explained this personal protective equipment doesn’t contain any of the usual per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), a group of nearly 15,000 synthetic chemicals that have been used in the manufacturing of consumer and industry products for decades.

This includes firefighting equipment, which is also often treated with PFAS in order to help resist heat and moisture.

However, recent studies have shown that prolonged exposure to PFAS is linked to a variety of cancer diagnoses, prompting some fire departments to explore additional precautions to protect its members.

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“We have presumptive cancers that are known in our industry and a number of our firefighters (in the Sault), mainly the retirees, have been diagnosed with cancer,” Johnson told the media following Thursday’s press conference.

“Is it a direct link to the bunker gear? That I don’t know. But I know that buying this (gear) is a step forward in the right direction to mitigate every (risk) for the workers and the firefighters.”

Johnson said the Sault fire service is one of the first departments in the country to supply its members with PFAS-free gear, if not the first.

Other department heads are in the process of acquiring their own PFAS-free gear, with the City of Vancouver announcing last month that its firefighters could receive this equipment by the end of the year.

However, all of the Sault’s 80 frontline firefighters now have access to this bunker gear and are ready to deploy with it.

Sault firefighters being at the front of the line for PFAS-free gear is partially due to good timing, since the department was in the market for new equipment just as this new protective clothing became available for purchase.

However, Johnson also made sure to highlight the proactive steps city officials took to secure this purchase, since they set aside $300,000 in their recent budget for 80 sets of PFAS-free gear.

Another key player in this deal is A.J. Stone Company Limited, an equipment supplier to first responders across Ontario.

A.J. Stone sales rep, and active Sudbury firefighter, Steve Dionne told The Sault Star he’s been working with local fire officials for around a year-and-a-half to broker this agreement and eventually secured all this new PFAS-free gear through the manufacturer Innotex.

Now that this deal has come to fruition, Dionne anticipates that a lot of other fire departments will follow suit, especially since the industry has placed a greater emphasis on protecting its members from harmful contaminants throughout the past half decade.

“We’re cleaning our gear before it comes back into the truck or back to the hall,” Dionne said. “Once it’s in the hall, we’re going through rigorous washing and drying before we put it back on. So those are the things that have been developed significantly over the last five years.”

Johnson said his department is part of this broader industry shift, as they’ve adopted a lot of the same decontamination protocols and even purchased PFAS-free firefighting foam before this new gear arrived.

Following this first shipment, Johnson’s goal moving forward is to ensure that every one of his fellow firefighters in the Sault has access to at least two sets of PFAS-free gear.

“The transition to PFAS-free gear represents a pivotal moment in our mission to serve and protect with integrity and excellence,” he said.

This report was originally published by The Canadian Press on May 11, 2024.


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