Watertown firefighters worry about toxic chemicals in their gear
WATERTOWN, New York (WWNY) - Heading into a burning building, firefighters have many occupational hazards. But there’s one they might not think about - the gear on their backs.
Captain Rich Little of the Watertown City Fire Department is ready to suit up at a moment’s notice.
“The greatest part of it as to when you’re doing it, you know you’re helping somebody. There’s no matter what your actions are, you’re trying to make the situation better,” he said.
The fire department straps on its gear for more than 5,000 calls a year, and potential problems could happen even before they leave the fire station
“Every time we put our gear on, which is every day whether we respond to a medical alarm or a fire alarm. We have to put our gear on and that exposes us to those chemicals,” said Watertown City Fire Department Captain Andrew Naklick.
PFAS, or per- and polyfluorinated substances, are found in most gear equipment. PFAS are used because of their ability to resist extreme temperature conditions, perfect for fighting fires.
However, research shows that long exposure to PFAS can be deadly, leaving firefighters no choice when it comes to doing their job
Coats worn by firefighters are one of the things that separate firefighters from flames that can reach 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit.
“It’s the lesser of two evils, what are you gonna do, right? You have to have your gear to protect you from the fire but you know that your gear is also could be giving you cancer. So, yeah, it’s it’s 2 fold,” said Little.
Newer equipment is safer for firefighters in terms of being exposed to PFAS. The city fire department gets new gear every five years. However, it can be costly.
“By the time you add the pants, the helmet, the gloves, the hood, that alone is in the neighborhood of five grand,” said Little.
As for a volunteer fire department, it may not be as much of a worry because members gear up for fewer fire calls.
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