Fire stations all around Florida are getting kits to help firefighters lessen their exposure to cancer-causing toxins they encounter during fires.
The kits come with items that can be found at a hardware store: garden hoses, Dawn dish soap, scrub brushes, a bucket and giant plastic bags. A $1 million state grant is funding around 4,000 of the kits. Monday afternoon Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department (JFRD) received more than 80 of them.
The idea is for firefighters to scrub down, then bag their gear and seal it in a bucket to leave harmful toxins behind before entering back into work and living spaces.
Florida CFO Jimmy Patronis, who is also the state fire marshal, visited Jacksonville’s downtown Fire Station 1 Monday. He said nationwide 70 percent of firefighters who died in the line of duty in 2016 passed away from cancer.
“That’s an unacceptable number,” Patronis said.
That rate is all too familiar for JFRD Fire Chief Kurt Wilson who said he sees the impacts every day.
“We have members on leave battling terminal cancer and we lose folks every year, both newly-retired, retired for a little bit and active duty to cancer so we’re doing everything we can to try to get this out of our workforce,” Wilson said.
Wilson said his crews have already been practicing this decontamination routine for more than a year, and he’s happy the state is advocating for the practice at every station.
He said the firefighters’ exposure to diesel exhaust is also an issue. That’s why the city approved more than $2.5 million in 2017 for diesel exhaust extractors in every fire station.
“All that diesel exhaust gets pushed into our living quarters, dining area,” he said.
Jacksonville Association of Fire Fighters union president Randy Wyse, whose father and grandfather both died of cancer said he’s also advocating for state legislation to support firefighters who get cancer.
Patronis’ office is partnering with the University of Miami’s Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center to distribute the kits.
Reporter Lindsey Kilbride can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, 904-358-6359 or on Twitter at @lindskilbride.