Fayetteville, N.C. — For those who fight fires, cancer is often a greater threat than flames. In fact, it’s the leading cause of death among firefighters.
That’s why some fire truck builders are working to make the job safer – by adding features to limit exposure to cancer-causing agents.
These new trucks, which went into service this week, each cost more than half a million dollars. They’re equipped with so-called “clean cabs” that help keep dangerous pollutants out.
To the untrained eye, these new designs might not look all that different – but firefighters said the changes could make all the difference.
A look at how these new designs can help prevent cancer
Fayetteville Assistant Fire Chief Kevin Dove, who’s spent more than half of his 40 years fighting fires, is also a member of the department’s Cancer Prevention Initiative committee.
While doing his job, he breathes in and soaks up a lot of dangerous, toxic carcinogens.
“This is a completely new design for us,” said Dove. “The goal is to make everything non-porous.”
Cloth seats, for example, can absorb all manner of dust, grime and cancer-causing agents. So the new designs offer vinyl-covered seats that are easy to clean.
“So when the firefighters get back from a fire, they wipe everything down to get the bad stuff away,” said Dove.
The newly designed fire truck cab also contains a High-Efficiency Particulate Air, or HEPA, filter, which filters out the carcinogens given off by dirty turnout gear.
The cab also has metal, solid-surface flooring, which can more easily be washed, vacuumed and wiped clean.
High rate of cancer among fire fighters
The threat is real. Several local firefighters, both current and retired, have been diagnosed with cancer in recent years.
That’s why firefighters take showers and wash turnout gear immediately after every fire.
“The goal is to get the carcinogens and the products that cause cancer away from the firefighters as quickly as possible,” said Dove.
The high cancer rate among firefighters was the focus of a 2018 WRAL investigation.
The trucks are also narrower and can move more easily within concrete turning lanes and medians.
These trucks replace trucks that were in service for about 15 years – and all new fire trucks have these “clean cabs.”
One of these special fire trucks was assigned to Station 14 on Langdon Street in Fayetteville.