Roanoke County firefighters get new gear to reduce cancer risks

The hoods have a special lining to filter out dangerous materials

ROANOKE, Va. – Firefighters with Roanoke County Fire and Rescue have new gear that's helping better protect them from the health dangers of the job. 

"Lots of man-made materials, particularly, give off lots of carcinogens when they burn," said Battalion Chief Craig Robertson. "We can't see them. We don't smell them. But they're there."

All of the firefighters now have particulate hoods with a Gore-Tex lining that filters out dangerous particulates, especially around the head, neck and throat. Firefighters wear the hoods under their helmets. Their previous hoods didn't have the Gore-Tex lining.

"Filters out about 99 percent of particulates down to .1 microns. To put that into perspective, a human hair is on average 50 microns," Robertson said.

The International Association of Fire Fighters lists arsenic, asbestos, benzene, diesel exhaust and formaldehyde as some of the known carcinogens firefighters can be exposed to at a fire. The IAFF lists cancer as the leading cause of death among firefighters.

"If we can reduce the carcinogens getting to the skin... then the hope is that we will reduce cancers," Robertson said.

Robertson said the hoods last about 10 years and cost about $100 each, which is about four times more than their previous hoods.

"We take every measure to ensure the protection of our people and ensure a safe work environment. And part of that is giving them the best gear we can buy," Robertson said.

Robertson also said they stress the importance of keeping their gear clean and removing as much soot as possible from the head, neck and throat areas while firefighters are still at a scene and then immediately after a fire.

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