British Columbia

New washer, dryer could be difference between life or death for Terrace firefighters

Firefighters in Terrace, B.C. can now wash their gear at the fire hall which gets rid of dangerous carcinogens and reduces the risk of exposing themselves, and others, to cancer.

Lack of laundry facilities means dangerous carcinogens cling to firefighting gear

Soot that sticks to firefighters' gear can make it easier for it to burn if not cleaned off properly, according to Terrace Fire Chief John Klie. (Shutterstock)

The arrival of a simple set of household appliances could be a lifesaver for Terrace firefighters.

The City of Terrace has budgeted $50,000 to purchase a washer and dryer for the fire hall, meaning firefighters will no longer have to use local laundromats to clean their contaminated gear.

The purchase is critical because for firefighters, unwashed gear can sometimes pose a greater health risk than fire itself.

"We worry about picking up carcinogens from here onto your skin, which will cause cancer," Terrace Fire Chief John Klie told Daybreak North host Carolina de Ryk. "It's also possible to bring that stuff home to your family if you're not cleaning your gear properly."

Klie also said the soot that sticks to gear after it is exposed to smoke can make it more flammable if it is not washed off.

Fire crews battle a blaze in Terrace, B.C. in April 2017. (Matt Kawei/Eye4nature Photography & Communications)

He told de Ryk it wasn't always considered critical to clean gear during his 40-plus year career and when he first started out, it was a badge of honour to have dirty gear.

"All junior firefighters wanted to be seen as a veteran so the easy way to look like that was dirty gear," said Klie. Now that the dangers of dirty gear are well-known, some firefighters hose themselves down at the scene of the fire right after they finish fighting it, he added.

A 2018 study by the University of the Fraser Valley, found that 86 per cent of all firefighter workplace fatality claims were blamed on cancer and firefighters are killed by cancer at a rate about three times higher than the general population.

Klie said he has had two colleagues diagnosed with cancer, one with leukemia and one with lung cancer.

"It's close to home," said Klie.

The department previously had a washing machine, but it broke in February. The new appliances are expected to be installed by mid-November.

To hear the complete interview with Terrace Fire Chief John Klie on Daybreak North, click on the audio link below:

With files from Daybreak North, Rafferty Baker

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