WESTERVILLE, OH (WCMH) — As more firefighters are diagnosed with cancer, there is a push from local departments to better protect themselves.
Hoods For Heroes is a national initiative to raise money for new hoods with real protection against cancer causing materials.
The director of the First Responder Face Off organization says 1 in 3 firefighters are projected to be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime. The organization is leading the charge to raise money for several fire departments to get the particulate blocking hoods which could ultimately save lives.
Their first goal is to outfit the entire Westerville fire department which will cost $15,000; a cost the department can’t handle on its own.
“When we look at gear, the weakest chain in the link right now is the firefighter hood,” said First Responder Face Off Director Don Zender.
He was never a firefighter but he knows the gear well after owning a company that cleaned it for years.
“Thirteen years ago I got involved in firefighters cancer foundation. We were one of the first companies in the state in the Midwest talking about cleaning and removing carcinogens from ff turnout gear.” he said.
It’s the reason why the organization is taking on the challenge of raising money for local departments to get particulate blocking hoods.
“Anything we can do to reduce exposures of carcinogens and cancer causing toxins for firefighters — that’s what we need to do.”
Zender says the hoods most firefighters wear right now have no protection against the carcinogens they’re running into and they easily absorb into their skin.
“In a fire-ground operation, for every five degrees of temperature rise in the body, the skin starts absorbing 400 times more,” says Zender.
Which he says leads to the high rates in cancer. Zender says nearly 70% of line of duty deaths for firefighters are due to cancer.
Of nearly 12,000 fire departments in Ohio, a recent study shows more than half don’t have particulate blocking hoods. Westerville Fire Department is one of them.
“Previous members of the fire department have passed away with leukemia, brain cancer, lung cancer, so yes this organization alone has been affected by cancer in many ways,” says Westerville Deputy Fire Chief Derek Robinson.
He said the cost of the new hoods is something not many departments can handle. “The turnout gear we wear, the coat and the pants alone are over $2,000 per set. You throw in a helmet that is around $300, a face piece that’s around $300 the boots that are around $2-300 dollars – That ensemble gets expensive quickly.”
The cost to protect first responders from getting cancer is not cheap, but for firefighters who want to live their lives with their families, it is priceless.
“All of these individuals here have dedicated their lives to helping others to saving others and if there is anyway way that they can help support us to protect ourselves and make our jobs safer and allow our individuals to go home and live long happy lives with our family it would be greatly appreciated,” says Robinson.
To donate or adopt a firefighter go to firstresponderfaceoff.com/hoodsforheroes