|In 2015, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) published the results of a multi-year study of 30,000 firefighters from the cities of Chicago, Philadelphia, and San Francisco to better understand the potential link between firefighting and cancer. Their study concluded that firefighters showed higher rates of certain types of cancers in comparison to the general US population.
When firefighters are exposed to hazardous environments self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) protects responders’ respiratory tracts from combustion products in smoke, soot, and other hazardous vapors. In addition to the SCBA, Personal protective clothing is utilized to protect firefighters from heat, flames and hazardous particulates. However, even when protective clothing is worn properly areas around the wrists, ankles, chest, stomach, and neck can become exposed. The protective clothing is not considered to be fully encapsulating. Gaps can exist in jackets, fasteners, wrist/glove interfaces, boot/pant leg interfaces and around the jacket hood and SCBA mask. These gaps can expose firefighters to infiltration of hazardous particulates beyond the protective clothing barriers. These potential gaps or weak areas can lead to absorption into the firefighter’s skin when smoke penetrates the personal protective equipment (PPE) interfaces.
To minimize the risk of exposure and to monitor, through medical surveillance, the following measures are in place:
- The Department created and instituted the firefighter health and safety program, Standard Operational Guideline, Personal Protection (SOG, PP-05) attached.
- Annual medical physicals per the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1582 - Standard on Comprehensive Occupational Medical Program for Fire Departments is performed annually for each firefighter. Components of the medical surveillance program are attached. Cancer and other significant health concerns have been detected, in the early stages, within The Woodlands Fire Department using this protocol.
- Post-fire decontamination guidelines and Post-Fire Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) transportation guidelines have been implemented – Standard Operating Guideline PP-08 includes procedures on cleaning, storage, PPE decontamination and Post- fire personal hygiene are included, attached.
- “Firefighter Decontamination supplies” -personal cleaning wipes have been purchased and placed on all of the apparatus to assist personnel with immediate gross decontamination of particulates, attached.
- Annual education to all personnel on the hazards and risks of exposures.
Additionally, the following items are being researched and developed for future implementation:
- The purchase of two “particulate barriers” firefighting hoods for each firefighter to protect the neck area.
- The Clean Cab initiative, researching of different methods for handling of personal protective equipment such as coats, helmets, and SCBA’s while returning from emergencies.
- Evaluating the need for secondary or backup set of PPE for each Firefighter.
- Working with PPE manufactures to improve the effectiveness of protective clothing.
- Continuous Education and research on this subject.