PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -- You see them all over the Phoenix area fighting fires on a daily basis, protecting homes and lives, but is the job harming them?
Two Phoenix firefighters died this year from what the department calls “occupational cancer.”
In light of these recent deaths, the Phoenix Fire Department says it's making changes to the department's protocols and procedures to protect the men and women on the front lines.
“We have to go put fires out, but we have to be smarter about it now. There is no way to eliminate the danger completely, but we need to take better steps to protect our members,” Capt. Rob McDade with the Phoenix Fire Department said.
One of the biggest changes is the way the department handles a firefighter's turnout gear following a fire.
“It starts with making sure we clean them extensively and we take them away from firefighters,” McDade said.
The uniforms get cleaned at a facility near 19th Avenue and Lower Buckeye Road. Workers soak the gear for 45 minutes then wash, dry and inspect it. The whole process takes about five hours.
“The old days of wearing a badge of honor and smelling like a firefighter, having your gear be dirty like my generation of firefighters, showed you worked hard, had a good fire, maybe had a save. That’s stupid, we need to get all that cleaned off. Clean turnouts should be the badge of honor that I’m being a smart firefighter,” McDade said.
When on a fire, firefighters also now do an initial wash of their gear on-scene.
“Our folks come out and we immediately rinse them off, we have to start that process of getting the toxins off them,” McDade said.
Changing the procedures with firefighter’s turnouts is just one change the department has implemented recently.
Phoenix fire just announced free cancer screenings for all firefighters at the Vincere Cancer Center.
“Early detection is what is important with cancer and now we have a system where our firefighters can get their blood drawn and a doctor is going to look at that blood and see if they have any of those markers for that early detection of cancer,” McDade said.
The CDC recently started tracking cancer among firefighters on a national level to help get a better understanding of possible trends and determine if there’s a link between workplace exposures and cancer.
“If we have those numbers, they are going to tell us if we’re making a difference. We can’t just go, 'Oh we have one firefighter, two firefighters.' We need a national snapshot of what’s going on in firefighters and cancer and are we doing the best we can to protect them,” McDade said.