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Increase in Cancers Underscores Necessity of Cleaning Your Gear

The most permeable piece of personal protective equipment is your hood. Hoods are designed to protect our head and neck from heat but are not designed to stop skin absorption through the forehead, angle of the jaw, the neck and throat.

Every firefighter knows that a lot of soot gets through their hoods, sits on sweaty, hot, highly permeable areas of skin, and then is rubbed into the skin as the firefighter is working.

Some cancer studies are also noting that firefighters are developing far more aggressive types of cancers, such as brain and neck cancers, at a much younger age than the general population, which provides further indications that these cancers could very well be a result of firefighting.

Before a new FDNY member gets to his assigned firehouse, he is given two hoods and a gear bag to help keep him safe and prevent cross contamination. The hood was first worn by FDNY firefighters job wide in January 1996. In a firefighter culture that is sometimes slow to accept change, it took several years before it gained wide acceptance. A 2001 injury prevention study by FDNY doctors Prezant, Kelly, Malley and Guerth confirmed significant decreases in neck burns (by 54%), ear burns (by 60%), and head burns (by 46%) by wearing the hoods. Additionally, moisture, such a sweat or water, increased the protective nature of the hoods from burns.

The UFA and UFOA fought hard for gear bags to protect members and their families from cross contaminations from their firefighting gear and work-duty uniforms. Gone are the days when firefighters threw their gear into the back of their car or a trunk, to get to their next destination, and left their cars covered with carcinogens that could adversely affect their family’s health. Properly used, these gear bags can reduce that risk. Safety and health advocates urge you to regularly clean the gear bags to decrease any residual risk.

Hoods and gear bags are important parts of protecting you from the many products of combustion and carcinogens that are present in the firefighting profession. The FDNY RAC unit responds to multiple alarms with wipes and replacement hoods for the members. Members should take advantage of this service. Cleaning your turnout gear and making certain the apparatus does not become a conduit are also important concerns firefighters should be aware of. Firefighting is a team effort, and so should reminders of the importance of proper decontamination and taking care of your health.

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