TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - The Tucson Fire Department has implemented extra steps to protect crews from the exposure of carcinogens that lead to cancer.
Before crews leave the scene, firefighters spray each other down using high-pressure, low-volume sprayers and soap to scrub away contaminants and toxins before they get any on their skin.
"So we're trying to wash ourselves down right when we come back from a fire and make sure we don't bring any of that back on the truck or back to the station," explained Stuart Sherman, who has been with the department for two years.
They also store their gear in bags to make sure they don't spread it to their trucks or to the fire station.
"Poisons go up in the air and smoke is essentially full of it, and that smoke sits on our gear," explained firefighter Stuart Sherman. "In the past, it was kind of life a firefighter pride thing to have the dirtiest gear possible but now they're kinda learning that, that pride is essentially killing us."
Sherman and more than 500 other TFD firefighters are part of a three-year study aimed at researching the effects of exposure to carcinogens and how it can lead to cancer later on in life.
"It happens all too often, either before they retire or after they retire we learn they got cancer," said Cpt. Paul Moore.
Moore is part of a three man team who collects samples of blood and urine from each firefighter after they return to the station from a fire call. The samples are then sent to the University of Arizona to measure the level of exposure.
The goal is to gather concrete evidence that shows the intervention technique actually reduces exposure. According to the International Association of Firefighters, more than 60 percent of all line-of-duty deaths are due to cancer.
"We're like a family we want to be able to take care of ourselves and of each other," said Moore.
The department has eight months left in the study, which is in conjunction with the U of A and was made possible by a $1.5 million gr ant from FEMA.
Once the study is complete, Moore said he hopes the results will eventually lead to other fire departments implementing the intervention techniques.
"So we're hoping to see some changes, see that reduction that is exposure goes down and then probably make some additional changes in the culture of the service, not just Tucson Fire Department but even nationally," said Moore.
Sherman said he's honored to be part of a study that could potentially help save the lives of his brothers and sisters across the country.
"The fact that we can make changes to possible impact the entire career field is pretty awesome," he said.