The City of Seminole received the $782,727 FEMA grant on July 30, and the county is required to contribute 10% for a total of $861,001
Martin E. Comas
SEMINOLE, Fla. — Seminole firefighters will soon be able to breathe a little easier, thanks to a nearly $1-million federal grant the county will use to install a system that expels harmful exhaust fumes from fire engines when trucks are parked in the stations.
Assistant Fire Chief John Thibert said firefighters sometimes crank up the engines inside the bays of stations to run checks, conduct routine maintenance or race to an emergency. But those tasks can lead to toxic diesel fumes being spewed, despite a standard ventilation system that removes some of the exhaust.
“When we leave for a call, we’re depositing fumes into the station that stay within the station and eventually get into the living quarters,” he said. “You drive out, and you shut the door. You may get some [of the fumes] out. But not all of it.”
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According to a landmark 2013 study conducted by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, firefighters have a 9% greater risk of being diagnosed with cancer and are 14% more likely to die of cancer than other individuals.
The study — which analyzed cancers and cancer deaths among 30,000 firefighters between 1950 and 2009 — also discovered firefighters are more likely to develop cancers of the respiratory, digestive and urinary systems.
The study, however, stated that it’s inconclusive whether those cancers are caused by diesel exhaust or a combination of fumes released from burning structures.
Here’s how the new system will work after it’s installed in 19 Seminole fire stations over the next three years: When a truck rolls into the station, a firefighter quickly connects a large hose to the vehicle’s exhaust pipe through a magnetic ring. Diesel exhaust is then sucked out of the truck, through the hose and into overhead pipes that blow the fumes outside the station.
The hoses automatically detach from the vehicle’s exhaust pipe when the fire truck heads out of the station, for example, on a call.
Seminole firefighters collectively start fire truck engines 214,000 times a year on average, or about 586 times a day, Thibert said.
Most of Orange County’s 42 fire stations have a similar system in place to catch the firetrucks’ diesel exhaust in the bays. That system was implemented when Seminole Fire Chief Otto Drozd was Orange County’s fire chief.
“This federal ‘Assistance to Firefighters Grant’ enables us to protect the more than 450 Seminole County Fire Department personnel from diesel exhaust fumes,” Drozd said in an email to the Sentinel.
Seminole received the $782,727 FEMA grant on July 30, and the county is required to contribute 10% for a total of $861,001. Seminole will put out bids for the project in October and plans to have the systems in place at all its stations by 2024, officials said.
It’s long been common for fire stations o have walls blackened by diesel fumes and discolored uniforms and gear of firefighters who work near the truck’s exhaust pipes.
Today, firefighters are required to have their gear washed after every fire. And they must quickly shower after they get back to the station to clean soot and chemicals off their skin. They also use wipes to clean their faces and necks after their exposure to fires and chemicals at the scene.
Gone are the days when firefighters considered their dirty gear as a badge of honor and hard work, Thibert said.
“We’re doing everything we can to minimize the risks of cancer to our people,” Thibert said. “It’s a component of our health and wellness program.”
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