A new study confirms what firefighters have feared for a while, that crews working outside of a burning building are breathing in cancer-causing toxins with no protection. Now, Palm Beach County firefighters are using masks that filter out those toxins.
It's hard to believe that up until now firefighters putting up ladders, setting up fire trucks have not worn anything to protect themselves from the air around a building on fire
"We know historically speaking that there's lots of carcinogens within structure fires and we suspected that those carcinogenic gases are escaping the building and going out around the fire scene," said Battalion Chief Bob Kropa, Palm Beach County Fire Rescue.
And now it's proven. Chief Kropa started a study with the University of Miami almost two years ago. It was prompted by a spotlight on cancer rates among firefighters. Those going into the fire wear appropriate tanks and masks, but the study found the levels of harmful gases around the fire are also dangerously toxic.
"And people such as the driver operators as well as the chiefs that aren't typically in fires are still coming down with cancer too," added Chief Kropa.
Palm Beach County Fire Rescue driver and truck operator Michael McKeehan says over time, building fires have also changed and created more toxic conditions.
"There's a lot more synthetics, there's a lot more plastics that are being used when those items burn. It's actually a petroleum based product and that is a proven cancer-causing agent," said McKeehan.
The answer: using half masks with removable gas cartridges that filter out carcinogens. After one big use, the cartridges can be replaced.
"What we're hoping to see in the future, we hope to see less and less and a decrease in the cancer rate here in Palm Beach County," added McKeehan.
Chief Kropa said Miami-Dade and Jacksonville are both in the process of looking into adding the masks. He says those departments and Palm Beach County make up the top three largest in the state so he is confident other departments will soon follow in the same foot steps.