Archive for February 27th, 2019

Cancer in the fire service

Excerpts from

Routine firefighting can expose firefighters to substantial cancer risk. A study in 2015 estimated that firefighters have a 14 percent increased lifetime cancer risk compared to the general public.

The decon challenge

Protective gear — pants, jackets, boots, gloves, facemasks, helmets and hoods — gets contaminated from emergency vehicle diesel exhaust and from toxic smoke arising from fire incidents. Exposure can occur from the off-gassing of toxins while removing gear post-fire or absorption through the skin from contact with dirty gear.

Using cleansing wipes on skin and field decontamination of dirty gear can significantly reduce these toxic exposures, but researchers have found that firefighters often don’t perform systematic decontamination procedures. The reasons for this vary but often relate to group norms, attitudes and perceived barriers.

The researchers’ hypothesis

Firefighters work in what researchers call high-reliability organizations, where the environment is high-risk and the organizational culture places emphasis on peer-support, teamwork and expertise. Group norms exert a very strong influence in that setting.

If firefighters believe that post-fire decontamination is effective, if they perceive their group of peers recognize the value of it, and if they can overcome any time or resource barriers to performing decontamination, then the researchers would expect to see an increase in post-fire decontamination behaviors.

The intervention

The program to increase decontamination behaviors relied on face-to-face presentations delivered by a member of the research team to audiences of 12-18 firefighters at a time. They presented it to 226 firefighters in the Palm Beach County and Boynton Beach Fire Departments (Florida).

The program had these parts:

  • An overview of firefighter cancer risk (PowerPoint presentation, 5-7 minutes).
  • Role of firefighter culture in addressing cancer risk. The messages were designed to show changing norms and culture, for example “clean gear as a badge of honor” (PowerPoint presentation, 7-8 minutes).
  • Overcoming logistical barriers to decontamination. (PowerPoint presentation, 5-7 minutes).
  • Overview of specially designed campaign materials available for use around fire stations. The messages promoted the seven steps to decontamination and the new norm of clean gear. (5 minutes)
  • Videos showing the spread of toxins from bunker gear using invisible dye and highly respected firefighters talking about culture change and the decontamination process.

Intervention takeaways

  • Researchers measured a significant increase in firefighters’ intention to clean their gear following the presentation.
  • Firefighter attitudes, perceived norms, and self-efficacy in overcoming barriers all showed substantial increases towards gear cleaning.
  • A key element of the intervention was featuring highly respected firefighters delivering the principal messages and demonstrating the desired decontamination procedures. Peer influence in high reliability organizations like the fire service cannot be underestimated.
  • The high occupational demands of the firefighters, who often were running 20 to 30 calls each day, made the reduction of barriers to decontamination behavior a key component in the intervention.

Key takeaway

An intervention that succeeds in increasing firefighters’ intention to perform post-fire decontamination procedures should result in decreased exposure to carcinogens and consequently a decrease in cancer risk from those exposures.

For more information on this study

  • YouTube: Clean Gear as the New Badge of Honor. This video (25:25) demonstrates one approach to field decontamination. It gives firefighters many of the tools and knowledge they need to engage in field decontamination, as well as helping shift norms and attitudes toward clean gear.
  • Firefighter Cancer Initiative Education Campaign. This site has the materials mentioned above and additional materials including posters used in the campaign, bumper stickers, standard operating guidelines implemented at fire departments in Florida, manuscripts, and additional videos developed by Palm Beach County Fire Rescue. (This site requires you to create an account but allows for download and non-commercial use of material.)

1Harrison, T.R., Yang, F., Morgan, S.E., Wendorf Muhamad, J., Talavera, E., Eaton, S., Niemczyk, N., Sheppard, V., Kobetz, E. (2018). The invisible danger of transferring toxins with bunker gear: a theory-based intervention to increase postfire decontamination to reduce cancer risk in firefighters. Journal of Health Communication, published online, 1-9. DOI: 10.1080/10810730.2018.1535633



Aurora Fire Department news

Excerpts from the

An Aurora City Council committee Tuesday recommended moving ahead with buying bulletproof vests for firefighters who are part of special tactical units, less than two weeks after they were involved at the scene of a mass shooting.

The move comes less than two weeks after firefighters moved into the Henry Pratt Co. building with police to confront an active shooter who had killed five Pratt workers and was shooting at the first responders police officers and firefighters. As it happens, plans were already underway for purchase of the vests, but those plans did not materialize in time for the Feb. 15 incident.

The firefighters involved were part of a police and fire tactical unit during the incident. It was the first time the city had used the combined units. The idea is that paramedics are on the scene to quickly help with injuries during an incident, such as the mass shooting at Pratt.

Aldermen voted to recommend spending $86,349 to buy 60 bulletproof vests, as well as helmets, accessories, goggles and medical supplies.  At one time earlier in 2018, fire officials applied for a grant for the purchase.

Originally, officials planned to spend $70,000 on the purchase, but had upped that in the budget to $110,000, so the final price was about $30,000 under the budgeted amount.

The City Council Committee of the Whole will consider the purchase next week, and move it to the full council to discuss on March 12.

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New engine for Lake Forest

engineering drawing of a new fire engine for the Lake Forest Fire Department to be built by Marion Body Works

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Chicago Fire Department news (more)

Rendering of new Chicago Fire Station

Rendering of what will be the city’s second largest fire station in West Pullman (DLR Group)

Excerpts from

The city is preparing to build its second largest fire station for $30 million in the West Pullman Neighborhood. The structure at 11900 S. Morgan Dr. for Engine Company 115 has been designed by DLR Groupand will be developed by the Public Building Commission.

The new building will be the second-largest fire station in the city, housing a Chicago Fire Department (CFD) District Office, an Office of Emergency Management, and Communications (OEMC) radio communication tower, and three ambulances.

The new 25,000 sq. ft. single-story fire station will include an indoor physical training space, full-size living quarters, and a workout facility for approximately 20 firefighters/EMTs/paramedics and eight officers. The facility will also feature a state-of-the-art emergency communication hub, watchtower, open office spaces, and a 4-bay apparatus room with a hose drying tower.

The city plans to build the fire station on vacant land at 119th Street and Morgan Street, replacing the existing Engine Company 115 located at 11940 South Peoria St. The anticipated opening is summer 2020.

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