The Joplin Globe, Mo.
Officials with the Redings Mill Fire Protection District are hoping to decrease the risk of its firefighters developing cancers or other illnesses thanks to a new, industrial washing machine and dryer.
The washing machine — called a gear extractor — allows both full-time and volunteer firefighters to clean their gear onsite and more frequently, washing out harmful agents so that they are not absorbed into the skin.
"The fire industry has seen an increase in firefighter deaths due to cancer and illnesses from the materials in fires that we respond to," said Redings Mill fire Chief Steven Coats. "The carcinogens that are created by the fire through the smoke that we're working in when we try to put out a fire is what's causing the cancer to occur."
A matching grant from Missouri Employers Mutual, the fire district's workers' compensation insurance provider, allowed for the purchase of the machines, Coats said.
"They have a grant program that they offer to their clients that are not-for-profits or public entities," he said. "They invited us to find a project to apply for that would have to do with improving the health of our employees."
Redings Mill officials applied for the gear extractor and dryer, which cost $13,062 total including shipping, Coats said. The grant awarded by Missouri Employers Mutual was a 50% match, so the station was reimbursed for half of the cost of the machines — excluding shipping — which came out to be $6,200.
Coats said that chances of firefighters getting cancers or other illnesses have been steadily rising in recent years because of an increase in the use of synthetic materials to make furniture, appliances, carpeting and other household goods.
"The synthetic material that's being used to build the things that we use in our homes puts off and creates more carcinogens and contaminants that we can absorb into our skin," he said.
Coats said that when absorbed through the skin, these carcinogens can cause brain, prostate, stomach, colon and testicular cancers, as well as multiple myeloma and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.
"The whole reason those are coming up is because of the carcinogens being absorbed into your body," he said. "Not just being breathed in, but actually being absorbed through your skin."
This is the second set of industrial washing and drying equipment that the department has received with the help of a grant, Coats said. Before they had access to these machines, firefighters may have gone two or three months before being able to send off their equipment to be professionally cleaned.
"Now that we have the equipment onsite, we'll be able to do what needs to be done for our equipment to meet the National Fire Protection Association standards," he said.
Additionally, when gear is washed properly and frequently, there is a decreased chance of firefighters bringing the absorbed chemicals home to their families, Coats said.
"We're always trying to find a way to be able to improve things not just for our employees and volunteers but for the public as well through grant money," he said. "We do a lot of research, and we've been successful with grants."
The Redings Mill Fire Protection District's new washer and dryer have been placed in the district's newest fire station, located at the intersection of Old Highway 71 and Route V near Tipton Ford in Newton County. Construction on the new station is set to be finished toward the end of this month.
©2019 The Joplin Globe (Joplin, Mo.)