The City of Sacramento and its fire department are working together to decrease exposure to toxic chemicals, which they hope will also decrease the cancer rate of firefighters.
Jay Coon was a Sacramento firefighter for 23 years. In the last six years, he has been diagnosed with malignant melanoma on his leg and lymphocytic leukemia.
"Firefighters wear a lot of pulmonary protection during the actual firefighting,” says Coon. “But, the whole rest of their bodies are wearing Nomex which protects you from catching on fire, but doesn't do anything to protect you from smoke. So, here you are in a real hot environment and your pores are just wide open."
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health says firefighters have an increased risk of developing Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and multiple myeloma, and twice the rate of testicular cancer compared to the general public because they are exposed to carcinogens on the job.
The Sacramento fire department instituted several new safety protocols and recommendations in 2012. Barbara Brenner is with the Risk Management Division for the city.
She says, "What the Sacramento Fire Department has done, with Cal OSHA consultation has changed their overhaul procedure to limit the time any one person has to work in that environment so that they can wear a self-contained breathing apparatus.”
According to Brenner, compliance in some ways has been slow to happen as firefighters are reluctant to change their culture.
She and Coon would like to see the city purchase a second set of turnouts for each firefighter so they have clean sets at all times.