Firefighters to undergo decontamination process after all fires to reduce cancer risk

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GREENWOOD VILLAGE, Colo. -- Don’t be surprised to see firefighters taking baths next to their fire engines.

There won’t be a tub, but there will be a lot of suds.

As South Metro Fire Rescue tries to become the cleanest fire crew around, gone are the traditions of firefighters using dirty hoods and suits as a symbol of experience.

“We’ve learned that these contaminants from fires, these new building materials that they’re using in couches and curtains and floors are super toxic to us and they soak in even from the skin,” Littleton Fire Rescue training Capt. Justin Sinnett said.

Those toxins have been linked with much higher rates of cancer among firefighters.

In some cases, they are 100 percent more likely than the average person to be diagnosed with certain types of cancer, especially in the respiratory system.

“We have a lot of guys that have died or have survived cancer and it’s close to the heart for a lot of us,” Sinnett said.

Starting within the next couple of weeks, South Metro Fire Rescue will be treating every fire as a hazardous materials situation.

It will use brushes to get rid of large debris such as insulation that becomes stuck to gear.

Firefighters will then take off their suit, helmet and breathing apparatus and place them in sealed bags to await a professional cleaning.

Special fire wipes will be used to remove black soot from hands, faces, necks and ears.

Firefighters are also encouraged to lather up with baby shampoo to clean debris from their hair and skin.

The idea is to leave all of the toxins at the scene and not bring them back into the fire trucks or fire stations.

“We know that this is a risk of our job and we’re ... more likely to get cancer, but why can’t we start fighting back?” another training officer told the group during a session Wednesday.

The decontamination process will tack on an extra hour of cleanup work for firefighters on scene. While no one wants to do extra work, that time could save their lives.

“These types of chances, in my opinion, are extremely important because it lets us retire at a younger age and live a more fulfilled life,” the hazmat trainer told the firefighters.

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