The most obvious danger to firefighters is from fire and its destructive force. Like firefighters everywhere, Ohio firefighters battle not only flames but heat, falling debris and structural collapses. However, they also face other unseen dangers from toxic substances.
One of the most prevalent toxic substances firefighters contend with are polyfluoroalkyl substances referred to as PFAS. These chemicals show up in the urine of firefighters in the hours after exposure. They have been known to cause thyroid disease, cancer, elevated cholesterol, decreased fertility, respiratory disease and immune suppression.
PFAS are in many products
The first products that may come to mind when thinking about PFAS are firefighting foams, but they also exist in a variety of consumer products, such as the following:
- Pizza boxes
- Cleaning products
- Non-stick cookware
The PFAS in these and other products may not prove harmful in their ordinary states, but when on fire, they may release the toxic substances into the air, which firefighters then inhale.
How can firefighters protect themselves?
As a firefighter, you don’t have the option of not going into a fire because you think you could suffer exposure to certain toxic substances. So, how are you supposed to protect yourself? Most people believe that the gear you wear provides you all the protection you need. It may protect you from certain dangers, but not all of them.
After a fire, substances that could cause you harm cover your gear. You could touch them with your bare hands or inhale them since they linger on your gear. The latest recommendations put forth after a study conducted by the University of Arizona Health Sciences are to immediately wash your gear, put dirty gear into a bag to limit further exposure by you and others, and to shower as soon as you return to the station. The results of the aforementioned study indicate that this limits the amount of PFAS in firefighters’ urine.
Following these recommendations could help limit your exposure to PFAS and other dangerous substances you encounter in the course of your firefighting duties. Even so, it may not totally eliminate the possibility of exposure and illness. If you suffer from an illness related to your work as a firefighter, you may be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits to help with your medical expenses and lost wages.