QUINCY — The firefighters on Engine 2 are now able to remove dangerous residue from their gear, wash their uniforms in separate washers and dryers and take a shower within an hour of getting back to the station following a fire.
The North Quincy fire station is the first to see completion of a room with showers, industrial washing machines and dryers meant to help reduce cancer rates in the city’s firefighters by getting carcinogens off their gear and bodies following fires. The shower room at headquarters is almost complete, and similar rooms will be installed in each of the city’s eight fire stations.
The money for the room, $1 million total, was included in the city’s 2017 appropriation for library, school and fire buildings.
"A huge thank you to the Koch Administration for 'getting it,'" said Tom Bowes, president of Quincy Firefighters Association Local 792, referring to the administration of Quincy Mayor Thomas Koch. "They realize the dangers of cancer in the fire service and have tried to take steps to reduce these numbers, including these rooms. These rooms are sure to be a game changer in the efforts to fight cancer rates."
Researchers say a recent spike in cancer rates among active and retired firefighters is the result of modern building materials that create toxic fumes when burned. Buildings today are filled with synthetics, polymers and plastics that burn faster and coat firefighters in a toxic mix of soot and chemicals that they absorb through their eyes, nose, mouths and skin.
Washing off and cleaning gear is key to preventing cancer among firefighters, research shows. A 2017 study published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene found that chemicals on bunker gear — the coats, helmets, hoods, pants and boots firefighters wear into a fire — can cause higher incidences of cancers, including multiple myeloma, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and prostate and testicular cancer.
The danger from exposure to carcinogenic chemicals during fires has become common knowledge only in the past few years as researchers pay closer attention to the data and fire departments draw attention to the health dangers. A 2017 report from the International Association of Fire Fighters estimated that 61 percent of firefighter line-of-duty deaths from 2002 to 2016 were cancer-related, but the data is based on local union reports.
"We hope this helps lower the rates here in Quincy," Bowes said about the shower rooms.
A recent study by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health found that American firefighters are diagnosed with cancer at a rate 9 percent higher than the general population. The study found that cancer-related deaths are 14 percent higher among firefighters then the general population.