Bristol, TN fire dept. looking to lower cancer rate with new equipment


Bristol, Tennessee's newest fire station includes state of the art technology designed to protect the lives of first responders.

Now more than ever, firefighters are dealing with toxins released from man made materials burned in structural fires.

After the fire is put out, first responders return to the fire hall covered in hazardous chemicals.

"If you go back 50 years, everything the firefighter was dealing with when he was in a structural fire was pretty much man-made. Now, we have a lot of things that are composites, and they're made of plastic, and they give off carcinogenics when they burn," said Interim Fire Chief Mike Carrier.

Those carcinogenics can lead to cancer. A study done by the CDC revealed firefighters have a 14% higher risk of dying from certain types of cancer than the average person.

"In the last three years, I've been to eight funerals for firefighters who were retired and then died from cancer," said Chief Carrier.

To protect his fellow firefighters from toxins, the department has added new equipment designed to clean their gear.

This is the first time this equipment is being used in Bristol and it's housed at their newly opened fire station.

First, they have a decontamination room located outside of the station.

When responders return from a fire, they can head into this room to wash off toxins away from the inside of station.

"Cots, backboards, and equipment like that often times have body fluid on them. So, we can bring them in the decontamination room and clean them," said Chief Carrier.

Once they head into the station, they have two laundry rooms. One for normal day-to-day laundry, and one specifically designed to clean their gear.

They wash their turnout gear in a machine called The Extractor.

"We can wash our gear in here and get all the carcinogens-- cancer causing products-- off of it," said Jason Johnson, a Bristol firefighter and paramedic.

The Extractor uses certain chemicals to sanitize their gear. They then hang their gear in a closet shaped box to dry.

"We'll hang the gear up as opposed to your dryers at home that use a tumbling affect. It has vents throughout that circulate hot air." said Johnson.

Chief Carrier says all of these machines are essential.

"When we look at our future generation of firefighters, we're making it a lot safer for those firefighters going forward," said Carrier.

If first responders at other stations in Bristol need to sanitize, Chief Carrier says they have access to the new equipment as well.

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