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Homer firefighters take protective measures

New hoods curb cancer risk

Joe McIntyre/staff photographer

Firefighter Daniel Hoffmann demonstrates the newer style of fire retardant particulate hood as part of modern firefighting equipment Jan. 13 at the fire department in Homer.

HOMER — The Homer Village Fire Department has acquired 40 new protective hoods to reduce exposure to cancer-causing chemicals.

Homer Fire Chief Mahlon Irish Jr. said the department received the hoods — about $75 each — almost three weeks ago. In that time they have all been handed out, two to each interior firefighter. Forty hoods were ordered in October, paid for with fire department fundraisers as well as through the village. “The village paid for 20 and Hose Co. 1 paid for the other 20,” Irish said.

Interior fighters, who actually enter burning buildings, get two. If one is dirty then they have another, Irish said. The new hoods help reduce the firefighters’ risk of getting cancer.

“We are exposed to carcinogens because of what is burning in a building,” Irish said. Televisions, computers and furnishings often are made of plastic or other oil-based materials and give off harmful chemicals when burned. Irish said that sweating during a fire opens the skin’s pores and makes it easier for the body to absorb chemicals.

The two most susceptible places on the body are the groin and the head, neck and jaw area. That’s where the hoods come in, Irish said. The hoods cover the head, scalp, neck and jaw. They have a longer bib-like piece that extends to the upper torso and shoulder areas.

A 60-year study by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health released in 2010 found that firefighters from three large U.S. cities showed higher-than-expected rates of certain types of cancer than the general population. There are also about twice as many firefighters with malignant mesothelioma than the general population.

Each hood is made up of three layers: two outer Kevlar layers with a filter layer on the inside. Kevlar is a lightweight, durable material that is also cut resistant. It has been used in ballistic and stab-resistant body armor. The old hoods used were only two Kevlar layers, Irish said. “It (the new hood) is 95 percent more effective of keeping carcinogens from getting to the skin.”

Irish said when he was re-elected as chief last April, one of the first things he wanted to do was look at ways to protect firefighters from getting cancer. “Everyone is trying to make it (cancer) as preventable as we can,” he said.

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