When buildings are built, a large variety of chemicals and products are used. These products are not designed to be mixed together, nor set on fire. The combination of these chemicals and products, and the fire acting as a catalyst, creates new chemicals and toxins. The repeated and prolonged exposure to toxins after the fire has been put out is proven to cause long term chronic illnesses, specifically cancer. A study performed by the US Fire Administration (USFA) in conjunction with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) revealed the following facts:
- Cancers of the respiratory, digestive, and urinary systems accounted mostly for the higher rates of cancer seen in the study population. The higher rates suggest that firefighters are more likely to develop those cancers.
- The population of firefighters in the study had a rate of mesothelioma two times greater than the rate in the U.S. population as a whole. This was the first study ever to identify an excess of mesothelioma in U.S. firefighters. The researchers said it was likely that the findings were associated with exposure to asbestos, a known cause of mesothelioma.
(Daniels, et al., 2013)
A recent article from San Francisco brings this issue home to those of us living in the bay area. You can read that article here.
During the overhaul phase, firefighters enter into the building and ensure that all the fires are actually put out. They also clean up the building, retrieving what can be salvaged and disposing of the materials that can’t be saved. They use their hoses and water, which take a large amount of physical strength to control; along with shovels and axes to complete this task.
Firefighters are wearing full turnouts during the fire; they continue to wear their gear, including their self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) during the overhaul phase. This equipment is cumbersome; makes breathing uncomfortable; and causes other complications such as back injuries and muscle spasms that are also associated with firefighting duties. As for their turnouts, the boots, pants, coat and air tank together can weigh 80 pounds. Their helmet alone can weigh 5 pounds. That doesn’t seem like a lot but you should try putting a 5 pound sack of flour on your head and perform manual labor. Needless to say, neck and back injuries are prevalent in the fire department.