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Valley firefighters taking extra measures to protect themselves from toxins

Posted at 10:33 PM, Feb 26, 2018

Valley firefighters face more dangers than meets the eye when it comes to responding to calls, and now measures are being taken to protect our first responders from the hidden hazards of the job.

"Each and every day our firefighters are walking through a toxic soup of chemicals," said Bryan Jeffries, President of the Professional Firefighters of Arizona.

Jeffries believes the industry is facing a crisis, and its protective protocols must improve. According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, more firefighters are getting sick from simply doing their job.

Right now, there isn't a decontamination policy every department follows. But in Phoenix, crews are taking their health into their own hands. Firefighters spray each other down with water following a call; an immediate effort to wash excess toxins away. 

In Milwaukee, the department has its own industrial washers and uses wet wipes to wash where the skin is thin and chemicals are easily absorbed. 

The City of Phoenix provides its fire staff with two sets of turnouts; the sturdy firefighter suits. So as soon as crews get back from a call, one set is sent to be cleaned and a fresh set is ready for the next response.

If battling flames isn't enough, Phoenix crews are also urged to follow up a call with a workout. 

"The theory there being that if we sweat hard, we will get those toxins or whatever has been absorbed into our skin out of our bodies," said Phoenix Fire Captain Jake Van Hook. 

The Scottsdale Fire Department is taking it one step further; partnering with the University of Arizona to study the effects of using a sauna. The union there received grant money and has now raised the rest of the roughly $50,000 it will cost to put a sauna in every fire station.

"We aren't talking about a big giant steam room, but a small closet that two people would sit in for 10 to 15 minutes at a time," said Sasha Weller, President of the Scottsdale Firefighters Association.

There isn't definitive, scientific evidence that suggests saunas are a life-saver, but the City of Scottsdale is hoping to change that.

Valley leaders are hoping to lead a cultural shift in the fire industry; an all-around effort to save more lives

"I get e-mails almost every day throughout our nation of firefighters that are dying of cancer and leaving families behind at very young ages.. and that's gotta change," said Jeffries.