Firefighters take aim at toxic PFAS found in protective work gear

Firefighters take aim at toxic PFAS found in protective work gear

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LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — Scorching flames aren’t the only danger to firefighters. There’s an invisible fight that’s claiming lives and the danger is in the very equipment that’s supposed to protect firefighters.

Cancer is the leading cause of death among firefighters. Today, the International Association of Firefighters hosted an event to raise awareness.

Edward Kelly, the general president of the International Association of Firefighters (IAF) is talking about PFAs – Perfluoroalkyl and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances containing harmful carcinogens.

“The sad part is the chemical companies have known that these PFA chemicals are toxic going back to the 1960s,” Kelly said. “This never should be infused into the manufacturing of our gear.”

The chemicals are absorbed into the skin and cannot be washed away. They can even spread in your house.

Hundreds of firefighters from across the country attended today’s event where they learned how to protect themselves. But the danger doesn’t end there.

“If we have our bunker gear on and we’re in your home, that could be rubbing up on your couch, bed, and children could be playing. This is dangerous for all of us,” Kelly said. “The fight we’re taking on isn’t just for firefighters it’s living up to the oath we took to protect you.”

Jason Burns, a Massachusetts firefighter, knows how important this conversation is.

“I got hired in 2006 and we didn’t ever hear the conversation piece of PFAs and I didn’t hear that until about 2017,” Burns said.

Burns was recently featured in the documentary, “Burned,” which highlights how these chemicals impact the fire community.

“What changed for me was starting to see 20-, 30-, 40-year-old kids getting cancer and dying from cancers much more aggressively in the past,” he said.

“I had just lost two firefighter friends to cancer. One was 37 and the other was 32. One was a childhood friend of mine. It stung and I set out to ask myself questions and be inquisitive,” Burns said.

Currently, there are no alternatives for another uniform. Kelly said they’re working with the National Fire Protection Association to change that.

The next step is teaming up with tort lawyers who handle laws involving toxic chemicals in order to reform laws, he said.

“In order to do that, you really have to hold people accountable for what they’ve done. That includes the bad actors in this case,” Kelly said.

“For me the message is — and you asked me what my next step is — I got about 15 years left in this job. It’s about leaving this job better for the next generation,” he said.

Nevada Senate Bill 76 prohibits the use or release of any Class B firefighting foam that contains PFAs for firefighting training.

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