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Columbus Adding New Gear To Protect Firefighters

Jan 27, 2020

The Columbus Division of Fire rolls out new gear this month to better protect firefighters and reduce their exposure to harmful contaminants. 

Mike Foley reports: 

Three members of the Columbus Division of Fire's new recruiting class simulate getting ready for a fire run in the quick dress station. The goal is to gear up and leave in the truck within 45 seconds to a minute at the longest. All 40 recruits are also training with new clothing designed to keep fire fighters safer. The new outfits are similar to existing gear, but include some important modifications. 

"We have seals where we noticed leaks of smoke and particulates that were getting through the material or in gaps, and they were landing on our skin," Battalion Chief Steve Martin said. "In a firefighting situation, our body temperature is up, our pores are open, we're sweating, so for the smoke and poisons to be landing on that hot sweat and getting into our pores is a problem. We've figured out ways to seal up those gaps so that we're more encapsulated than we were before. It's almost a firefighting hazmat suit now. So now we're running our recruits that have just been issued the gear through some confidence course items and some training sessions."

Since 2002, nearly two out of every three firefighters who died in the line of duty died of cancer, according to the International Association of Fire Fighters. The Columbus division lost two firefighters to occupational cancer in recent years - Ed Gibbons in September 2018, and John Ritchey the following March. New gear to reduce the exposures of toxic products represents just one of many steps the division is taking to protect its 1,600 firefighters. 

"As soon as we come out of a fire, we take this stuff off at the scene and bag it and seal it up at the scene, so that we're not taking it into the truck and into the fire station," Martin said. "We also do a lot of decontamination of our body at the fire scene. We have baby wipes and wet towels. We can scrub our face, neck, wrist, and hands at the scene so that we're not wearing that stuff very long. Then we're also looking at better ways of decontamination from our uniforms after a fire before we go into our bedroom areas or kitchen areas or TV room areas or office areas. We want to keep all the contaminants out in the bay and then get totally scrubbed up in new uniforms before we go in our living quarters. So these are some of the steps we're working on."

Each set of protective clothing costs a couple hundred dollars more than traditional material, but fire officials say it's worth it to save lives. Martin says the division hopes to have the new gear in place for every Columbus firefighter in the next two years.