Ontario Local lowers risk of exposure to forever chemicals with PFAS-free gear 

Fire departments in the United States and Canada are starting to phase out turnout containing PFAS as manufacturers start to make gear without the forever chemicals available.

June 21 • 2024

Sault Ste. Marie, ON Local 529 members became the first Canadian IAFF affiliate to wear PFAS-free turnout gear, making the transition last month.  

“Today our members are wearing gear that won’t make them sick and that’s a big win for us,” Local 529 Vice President Mark Morgenstern said. “We were fortunate that labor and management were able to come together to put safety first and make this happen. 
“Other local governments and fire departments are already in the process of also switching to safer gear. We hope those that haven’t started the process will see how accessible this is and follow suit.”  

Local 529 members began discussing the need to switch with Sault Ste. Marie city administration and Fire Chief Peter Johnson as soon as the IAFF and the Metropolitan Fire Chiefs Association issued a joint advisory on the subject in August 2022. 
City officials supported Local 529 immediately, but carcinogen-free gear was not immediately available. Once the gear did become available, the city council approved $300,000 in funding to buy all 80 Sault Ste. Marie fire fighters one set of PFAS-free turnout gear. 

Labor and management jointly considered the available options and decided to use Innotex gear. 

Johnson held a press conference at Fire Hall 1 when the gear arrived May 8. In a statement, Johnson noted that moving to PFAS-free gear was an easy decision. 
“There is no difference [between the old gear and the PFAS-free gear] in the protection. The level of protection is exactly the same,” Johnson stated. “This is a significant stride forward in safeguarding our fire fighters and our community. This purchase is a reflection of our commitment to protect our most valuable asset — our fire services staff.” 

Local 529 members have been wearing the gear in the field for almost a month now.  

“Our members so far are saying that the new gear feels and operates like the old gear, but it does seem to feel a little warmer,” said Morgenstern. “Knowing that, we just monitor hydration and signs of heat exhaustion more closely. It’s worth it for the safety benefit.” 
The Sault Ste. Marie Fire Department plans to replace the fire fighters’ second set of gear with the PFAS-free gear as it ages out.