Hernando firefighters get new, cancer-fighting hoods

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The dangers firefighters face on a daily basis, often times go beyond the flames and smoke.

There's also the risk of health issues, especially cancer, that could appear down the road.

Hernando County Fire Division Chief James Billotte says while there are obvious risks associated with the job, there are also more microscopic dangers when fighting a fire up close.

“If we can't keep our own folks safe it's harder to get out there and do our job,” said Billotte. “Cancer rates are skyrocketing in firefighters.”

According to a 2015 study conducted by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health or NIOSH, firefighters are nine percent more likely than the average person to be diagnosed with cancer. Researchers also found firefighters are 14 percent more likely to be killed by cancer.

“Some of the carcinogens and dangerous chemicals we come across during your modern fire will get absorbed through the skin,” said Billotte.

But that's where fire officials in Hernando County are hoping a new headpiece will play a key role in reducing the cancer risk. Officials explain firefighters already wear a similar hood, but this updated version, they say, protects against molecules penetrating the cloth and being absorbed into the skin.

And while the cost of the new hood is roughly five times that of the old one, officials and firefighters believe it's well worth it for a healthier workplace.

“The protective gear is getting better and this hood is just another example of that,” said Billotte.