Grant funds will help Southwick firefighters prevent cancer

Funds from two grants will help protect Southwick firefighters, pictured fighting a fire, from contact with cancer-causing chemicals. (File Photo)

SOUTHWICK – Members of the Southwick Fire Department will be better protected from cancer-causing chemicals thanks to two grants.

The SFD received a $2,450 Firefighter Turnout Gear Grant and a $5,000 Washer-Extractor Equipment Grant from the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security (EOPSS) and the Department of Fire Services (DFS).

According to Fire Chief Russ Anderson, these programs aim to reduce the amount of cancer-causing chemicals that firefighters are exposed to in the course of their work by providing them with modern protective gear to wear while fighting fires, and modern gear washing machines to clean contaminants from their gear before they wear it to the next emergency.

The Southwick Fire Department will use this funding to purchase 25 sets of firefighting gloves for personal protection during firefighting operations, and one washer-extractor for gear cleaning.

Anderson said the gloves they have now are in need of replacement.

“These are the gloves we issue that get very dirty,” he said. “This will allow us to wash gloves and replace as needed.”

Anderson said he was especially excited about the washer.

“The gear washer is a big one — we bought our washer used when we moved into the station and it is over 30 years old,” he said. “The new washer will address gear cleaning issues more effectively.”

The new equipment will further SFD efforts to keep firefighters healthy.

“The purchase of these items represents a significant step forward in our ongoing cancer prevention efforts at the Department,” said Anderson. “Equipping our firefighters with new hoods and gloves and enhancing our ability to wash their gear once it is contaminated is a tremendous benefit to the firefighters, their families, and the collective safety of our community.”

Statistics show there is a high prevalence of cancer among firefighters.

“We now know that the risk of occupational cancers is amongst the greatest threats faced by modern firefighters,” said State Fire Marshal Peter J. Ostroskey. “Providing firefighters with new gear to wear and establishing regular and effective gear washing programs are two of the most valuable actions we can take to reduce future cancer diagnosis.”

According to the Firefighter Cancer Alliance, cancer is the second leading cause of deaths among firefighters today, following cardiovascular disease, as established by numerous scientific studies and data collected and evaluated by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and by the International Association of Fire Fighter’s (IAFF) Line of Duty Deaths Database.

These databases demonstrate that occupational exposure to carcinogens significantly increases firefighters’ risk of several cancers in correlation with the duration of firefighting activities, states the Alliance website. Cancer deaths among members of the fire service have risen dramatically over the last 20 years, in tandem with the increasing toxicity of modern fires, due to the use of synthetic products and plastics, and other toxic chemicals that release carcinogenic by-products when burned.

“We are thankful that the Commonwealth has made this a priority and invested in the advancement of the ongoing cancer prevention efforts of fire departments across the state,” Ostroskey stated.

Funding for this grant program was made available through the Baker-Polito administration for fire departments across the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.


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