Lugoff, SC (WLTX) The risk of cancer is higher among firefighters than it is for the general public. Back in July News 19 shared with you our investigation into the dangers, called "Cancer: Killing Our Heroes." One Fire Department is trying to mitigate those risks. The Lugoff Fire and Rescue just received a $20,800 grant from the Health Foundation of Kershaw county, that just might help them save lives.
Steve Sheorn is on the Board of Commissioners for Lugoff Fire and Rescue. He knows first hand how hard cancer is to fight. He was diagnosed with Leukemia back in 2011. Last year, the cancer came back. He is now in remission. He tells News 19, "The fact that I've got it. I can't say for sure that's what caused it, but I think it had a lot to do with it." The 'it" he is referring to, is his 30 year firefighting career. He says, "Back when I first started in the fire service, which was the early 70's, we didn't even have air packs."
Lugoff Fire Chief, Dennis Ray wrote the grant for the extractor and a dryer for turnout gear, special chemicals, and training. He tells News 19, "Knowing that environment, knowing that's the profession that we're in, knowing we have those exposures, to provide as much protection to our firefighters as we can. This is absolutely key; cleaning properly decontaminating properly, after the firefighter comes out of that environment, put it back on the firefighter as fast as possible."
During a fire, firefighters are exposed to all kinds of chemicals that have been directly linked to certain types of cancers. Chief Ray says, "One of the biggest things we face today isn't just the fire, isn't the dangerous situations, protecting people. Its protecting ourselves, and specifically to the exposure to carcinogens."
This extractor is not just any washing machine. It is especially made for fire gear and even hoses. The particular one that Lugoff purchased was from a company in West Columbia. But in addition to the machine, Chief Ray says the firemen had to be trained on the proper care of their gear. He says, "You have an outer liner and there is an inner liner. They both have to be washed separately. They both have to be washed at their own programming cycles."
The special dryer is also designed for turn out gear and works to help preserve it as much as possible. Chief Ray says, "We have a set time and set temperature and then the machines do it themselves."
Out of the 17 fire stations in Kershaw County, four of them now have this type of extractor; Lugoff, Camden, Pine Grove, and Blaney. Chief Ray says Buffalo-Mt. Pisgah just received a grant for one as well. Sheorn says this is just one step he's glad to see departments turning to as a type of defense against the risk of cancer. He tells News 19, "The extractor and dryer are just as important as the air packs and the bunker gear. If you save one person's life, it's worth the money that you spent on it."
The South Carolina Firefighters Association says one of the issues firefighters are facing in making the connection between the job and the cancer that many of them are getting, is there is not enough cancer data for our state. In continuing coverage on this topic, News 19 shared that story with you as well, when the Association set up a data base for firefighters and volunteer firefighters to self report when they have been diagnosed with cancer. Here is the link to that survey. http://scfirefighters.org/resources/safety-and-health/firefighter-cancer-database/