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Fire Crews request extra gear to protect against health hazards

Posted at 8:17 AM, Jul 22, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-22 09:17:11-04

WACO, TX — Firefighters who help keep our community safe, are pushing for help to take care of their own.

This as a short supply of gear is causing many firefighters in Waco to be exposed to dangerous conditions.

"We're going to be exposed to things that others are not and it's a risk that we're willing to take to protect those that we're here to serve. But the last 20 years we've been studying how cancer affects firefighters and it consistently is the number one killer of firefighters every year," says Philip Burnett, the Training Captain with the Waco Fire Department.

Fires are known to leave debris and other carcinogens on gear until it goes through a special extractor wash.

"The repetition of it, you just know where everything is. Just throwing it on making sure you have everything from every call. The gear after a fire it smells it's nasty it's wet," says Waco Fire Fighter, Paul Gilmore.

Fire officials say extractor machines can only wash one set of gear at a time, and to clean a whole department's gear would take at least a day.

Many departments don't have extra gear, also known as turn-out gear.

So often times crews respond to back-to-back calls with their dirty gear instead of a clean, extra set.

"Once it's soiled and dirty if you don't have a spare set, you wash off the debris with the water hose wipe what you can and they go back to wearing the same clothes. that's where the cancer risk rises cause you're exposed to the carcinogens and other things that are on that gear just from the air and other debris that you were exposed to.." says Burnett.

In 2019, Texas passed a law to help firefighters get worker's comp if they're diagnosed with a listed form of cancer but firefighters are still dying from the disease.

Local crews want to make it a standard for all departments to have at least two sets of gear.

"A disease of that nature, that could've been prevented, we have to take those safety steps to make sure that doesn't happen," says Burnett.

In Tuesday night's meeting, Waco's City Manager delivered his preliminary recommendations for next fiscal year's budget, local firefighters would get an extra set of gear costing $494,273.

"From a budget perspective, from a mayor and council perspective, from City Manager perspective it's very important that we are protecting our frontline workers, our firefighters our police personnel, ensure that they have the proper equipment they need to do their job effectively," says Nicolas Sarpy, the Director of the office of management and budget with the City of Waco.

Also proposed in the budget is increased funding for street rehabilitation and parks, as well as improving public safety services which include more firefighters and police officers.

The items in the proposed budget will be filed next week.

The City Council will then deliberate and vote on the budget during August.