OSWEGO – In October 2017, the Common Council approved Fire Chief Randall Griffin’s request to accept the donation of a Gauch Washing Machine with 6” steel base from the Firefighter Cancer Foundation of New York.
The machine is worth approximately $7,000 and will help remove potentially cancer causing substances that get into the firefighters’ gear.
As part of the deal, OFD will use the machine to decontaminate Fulton Fire Department’s gear as well.
The department put its new equipment to use today (February 27) following a morning fire on East Eighth Street.
The Gauch (washing machine) extractor is more than just a ‘washing machine.’ It removes harmful toxins from the firefighters’ turnout gear.
For every degree a firefighter’s body temperature rises, their absorbtion rate increases 100 percent, Michael Valenti of the Firefighter Cancer Foundation of New York, told Oswego County Today.
That means if a firefighter’s body temperature rises just three degrees, he is potentially absorbing 300 times the toxins he was exposed to fighting a fire, he said.
“Basically, he is stewing inside his gear,” he said.
OFD Captain Paul Conzone agrees.
“When you’re fighting a fire you get very hot and sweaty, especially under the arms, the groin and your head,” he explained. “You’re absorbing whatever was at the fire scene.”
“As more and more research is being done, we are finding out more about the occupational ricks of cancer associated with firefighting. In the past we haven’t really looked at it because generally when cancer strikes it’s in retirement and it wasn’t attributed to occupational exposure,” Chief Randall Griffin explained.
Now research is showing that a lot of cancers are found in people who never smoked or had any other pre-existing conditions or family histories.
“So, the issue is how do we reduce that cancer risk?” Chief Griffin said.
One of the things they’re doing is getting a second set of gear for people so they can come back from a fire and change and wash their original gear.
That doesn’t decontaminate, the chief pointed out.
“It’ll wash off the debris but not the toxins being absorbed into the skin. In a house fire there are many toxins, such as burning plastics, that get absorbed into your skin,” he told Oswego County Today. “They’ll reek of fire for days. If you come back tomorrow, those fire trucks will still smell like fire. So, it’s not just a matter of taking a shower or just rinsing off with a house like (Capt. Conzone) did. You have to get that stuff out.”
Some firefighters will go to a sauna and sweat it out of their pores.
What the new machine will do is help OFD decontaminate its gear.
“A simple washing machine will clean the gear. This will actually decontaminate it,” the chief said.
Researchers are looking at how fire trucks can be efficiently decontaminated after firefighters have ridden back to the station after a fire.
“Fire service is really evolving. Some departments are taking their air packs out of the cab on the way back to prevent possible contamination. Fire chiefs generally don’t go too far into a fire, but run the risk of contamination as well. Some fire departments have gone to pickup trucks, so chiefs can leave their stuff outside, int he back of the pickup,” Chief Griffin said. “Those are some of the things that we are looking at. It’s about reducing the risk; you’re never going to zero the risk. So we’re going to try as much as we can to find ways to minimize the risk. This machine is a big part of that.”
The Firefighter Cancer Foundation gave OFD the extractor and the council officially accepted the donation last October. It was just recently delivered.
The money that OFD would have had to spend on the extractor can now be put to use in other areas of need, the chief explained.
“We make it available to Fulton (fire department). They’ll bring up their gear and we’ll wash it for them and send it back to them. That way their guys can get stuff decontaminated, too,” the chief said. “For the longest time, I think, their guys were bringing it home and washing it in their own washing machines. The problem with that is, one it’ll damage your washing machine, and two, that’s just watering down the stuff. It’s not really decontaminating the gear. What you’re doing is leaving that stuff in your washing machine and your kids’ and your family’s clothing is going to be exposed.”