The IAFF and the Metropolitan Fire Chiefs Association (Metro Chiefs) issued a joint statement today advising members of the adverse health risks associated with fire fighter turnout gear. Recent studies have shown all three layers of the protective clothing contain Per and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) chemicals, which have been linked to cancer – the leading cause of fire fighter deaths.
The IAFF and Metro Chiefs are encouraging members to reduce their exposure to PFAS by limiting use of turnout gear only to emergency responses where its protection is a necessity. Wearing all PPE and self-contained breathing apparatuses during firefighting, overhaul, and working in smoke remains the best first line of defense to protect from fireground contaminants until PFAS-free alternatives are available.
“This is the challenge of our generation, and if we don’t act, it will be the challenge of our children’s generation,” said IAFF General President Edward A. Kelly. “We can’t just salute in front of the church and fight for better benefits. We need to combat what’s killing us and I am committed to making sure we do everything we can to extinguish cancer from the fire service. That starts with removing PFAS from our turnout gear and, until PFAS-free options exist, reducing our exposure as best we can.”
“The health and welfare of our firefighters remains the top priority of the Metro Chiefs,” said Chief Robert Rocha, president of the Metropolitan Fire Chiefs Association. “In conjunction with the removal of PFAS from Personal Protective Equipment, we encourage all fire service organizations and fire fighters to take the appropriate precautions to reduce and eliminate cancer in the fire service.”
The statement also asked fire fighters not to bring turnout gear into firehouse living areas, to transport gear in sealed containers or bags (and preferably not within a vehicle’s passenger compartment), wash hands after handling turnout gear, and clean apparatus cabs regularly and after every fire.
Identifying safe and effective PFAS-free materials for turnout gear is a long and challenging process. Both the IAFF and Metro Chiefs are dedicated to removing PFAS chemicals from turnout gear. The joint efforts will take place before regulatory bodies and in continuing discussions with manufacturers in the critical initiative of eliminating PFAS “forever chemicals” from turnout gear.