Hampton firefighters to be first in region with gear designed to fight cancer risk


HAMPTON, Va (WAVY) — New gear aimed at reducing a firefighters’ cancer risk is heading to Hampton.

Earlier this week, firefighters with the City of Hampton’s Division of Fire and Rescue were measured for new fire protective clothing specifically designed to reduce exposure of potentially dangerous chemicals that can be prevalent when fighting home fires. 

A 2013 government study, supported by the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention, shows firefighters are two times more likely to get testicular cancer. There’s an increased risk for multiple myeloma, non-Hodgink’s lymphoma, skin and prostate cancers. 

“We’ve had a few members that have served for 20-plus years. They retire, and after they retire they are diagnosed with a form of cancer that has probably been job-related,” said Battalion Chief Edward Cantwell III, who oversees department Health & Safety.

He said the city recently ordered 270 sets of LION’s RedZone turnout gear in order to help keep members safe. It will cost $2,400, according to a department spokesperson, and will be the first department in Hampton Roads to have such technology.

“It’s made to not let the ‘stuff’ get in to get on our arms,” Cantwell said, explaining the difference between the new gear and what has been used for years. “The hotter you are, the more carcinogens your skin absorbs.”

Cantwell explained the LION gear has “barriers” in place at the wrists, core, ankles and neck.

“Reduces up to 98%, (the) chance of having anything come through,” Cantwell said. 

The gear is expected to be rolled out in 2019. However, firefighters are already wiping down with special carcinogenic soot removing wipes after fighting fires according to Cantwell. He also said gear is cleaned in special machines that can remove the carcinogenic material. 

In the future, the department will also be giving urine samples after fighting fires.

“Give urine sample [to be] sent off to the lab and they can trace the levels of two particulates that are known to be linked to carcinogens and structural firefighter responses,” Cantwell said. “We are hoping it can be incorporated into how we can improve the products that we use to do our jobs every day.”

This is all happening while the Virginia Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission​​​​​​ studies how the Virginia Worker’s Compensation Act could be changed.

Fire unions have been pushing for the General Assembly to add several cancers — including brain, colon and testicular — to the list of presumed work-related illnesses.

While the study isn’t expected to be released until December, the following is an update from April 25th. 

JLARC staff have had two meetings with the Virginia Professional Firefighters. The first meeting, on March 18th, included the VPFF president, the VPFF council, and their Deputy Director of Governmental Affairs.

The second meeting, on April 9th, included the six VPFF district representatives, the VPFF president, and two other firefighters involved with the VPFF. This meeting lasted for about two hours and focused primarily on the disease presumption issue, the VPFF members’ personal experiences with workers’ compensation claims, and ideas for how to improve the system.

The VPFF has forwarded numerous resources to our team, including additional contacts and studies examining the link between cancer and firefighting.

The VPFF has also provided the following list of related organizations, and our team plans to contact and meet with representatives from each one:

– Virginia Fire Chiefs Association: Chief Chris Eudailey, Exec. Director
– Virginia State Firefighters Association: Larry Gwaltney, Exec. Director
– Virginia Fire Service Council, Chief Stephen Kopczynski, Chairman
– VA Chapter of Intl. Association of Arson Investigators, David Allen, Exec. Director
– Virginia Fire Prevention Association, Elaine Gall, President

Additionally, the team has:

Met with the Virginia Trial Lawyers Association, whose members are attorneys that tend to represent claimants in workers’ compensation cases,

Met with the authors of a key study in Washington State that we plan to replicate, scheduled meetings with epidemiologists and other experts at VCU, Johns Hopkins, and UNC for the week of April 29th.

The team has also observed several hearings and has come to an agreement with the Commission on the data that they will provide to us, which we will have in house within the next 3 weeks.

Tracey R. Smith
Associate Director
Virginia Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commissio

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