Protect the Health and Safety of our Firefighters
Committee: Facilities, Parks and Recreation
Total Cost: $110,000
Locations: Fire Houses in Cambridge
This proposal will purchase and install six gear drying units to shorten wait time for clean gear ($51,000), and eleven sets of wireless headsets to protect hearing and improve communication ($55,000). Let’s protect those who protect us.
Firefighters risk their health and safety on a daily basis. The job also carries long term risks, which are less visible to the public but no less consequential. This includes higher levels of cancer and hearing loss, due in part to the hazards of the work environment. This proposal aims to provide recommended equipment across all firehouses in Cambridge to minimize risk exposure and improve the health and safety of our firefighters.
Firefighters are routinely exposed to chemicals, biological agents, and particulate matter over the normal course of fighting fires. Unsafe contaminants easily penetrate, and are absorbed by, turnout gear (i.e., jackets, pants, and other protective gear). The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has conducted research focused on firefighter cancer and concluded that firefighters face a nine percent increase in cancer diagnoses, and a 14 percent increase in cancer-related deaths, compared to the general population in the U.S. This increased risk has recently led to a new law requiring the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to develop and maintain a registry to collect data on firefighter cancer.
This exposure not only increases the risk of cancer but also shortens the life of safety equipment. Gear washers are present, or slated to be installed in, every fire station in the city. Gear dryers expedite the process of drying turnout gear, making it ready to wear sooner. This is beneficial not only for drying cleaned gear, but also for drying gear during wet weather, which is an important consideration given the New England climate. At present this equipment is not present in six of the eight firehouses, and one would need to be purchased for each. Gear drying units cost $8,500 each.
Regarding hearing loss, firefighters are routinely exposed to noise exposure that exceeds NIOSH recommendations. Fire sirens, alarms, communication devices, audio equipment in cabs, engine pumps, rotary and chainsaws, and pneumatic tools used in emergency ventilation and extrication all generate high noise levels, and over time this can lead to hearing loss. Headsets help to buffer these noises.
Wireless headsets have an added advantage of working not only within the truck but also within 1,500 feet, helping to eliminate ambient noise and improve communication when time is of the essence. Over the past 12 months, the firefighters of Rescue 1 (Main Headquarters) have tested wireless headsets and the feedback indicates that this is a superior alternative to the current wired setup. Each wireless headset unit costs $5,000.