By Stephen Hudak
ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — Orange County firefighters stationed near the University of Central Florida became the first in Central Florida to receive decontamination kits to help first-responders wash soot and other possible cancer-causing chemicals from their work gear.
Ocoee firefighters also got kits Thursday.
Each kit includes a 5-gallon bucket, detergents, scrub brushes, hoses and spray bottles.
Funded by a $1 million grant and distributed at Orange County Station 67 by Jimmy Patronis, Florida’s Chief Financial Officer, the kits are part of a state strategy to lower firefighter exposure to cancer agents emitted at fire scenes.
More than 4,200 kits will be given to 405 Florida fire departments as part of the state effort.
Patronis, who also acts as Florida’s state fire marshal, has been touring the state and distributing the kits with instructions on how to use them and why.
Firefighters have a 9 percent higher risk of cancer diagnosis and a 14 percent higher risk of dying from cancer compared with the general population, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.
Over the next month, the Orange County Fire/Rescue Department will equip its 42 fire stations with the kits, hoping to prevent fire crews from unwittingly tracking the chemicals into their trucks, firehouses and living quarters.
“The things we’ve been doing are the right things,” Orange County Fire Chief Otto Drozd III said of preventative measure the county has employed to mitigate cancer risks among firefighters. “We need them to stay healthy for the community which calls on them in its time of greatest need.”
A multi-year study by NIOSH indicated that firefighters are at a higher risk of cancer.
In July, President Donald Trump signed legislation requiring the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to set up a registry of fire fighters that will track links between their workplace exposures and cancer. NIOSH is leading the effort in establishing the registry, which is intended to provide more complete and representative health information about U.S. firefighters.
Exposure to toxic chemicals released from burning buildings and cars and the diesel exhaust from their trucks are considered contributors to the increased risk.
“The science isn’t a question any longer,” Drozd said of a myriad of studies. “They show a direct correlation between workplace exposure and certain kinds of cancer.”
Orange County has dedicated more than $2 million in cancer-prevention measures in the past few years and has plans for more.
Twenty-seven of the county's 42 fire stations also have a system in place to catch a fire engine’s diesel exhaust and prevent it from settling onto firefighter gear.
County firefighters also each have a second set of gear so they won’t have to wear dirty duds after leaving a scene.
They also are required to shower within an hour after returning to the fire house to cleanse themselves of chemical residue.