Lakeland Fire Department's new truck will help keep firefighters healthy

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Firefighter Douglas Novogrodski knows his health risks, even after a fire's put out. 

"If you go to a fire, and your gear is in the truck and you go back in, you get a headache from just what it smells like," Novogrodski said. "It's bad." 

The carcinogens first responders inhale go beyond the scene. 

"We're carrying that dangerous stuff that's off-gassing, and we're being exposed to, with us, back to the station," said Rick Hartzog, Lakeland Fire Department's assistant chief of administration. 

It's why his department decided to do something about it. They welcomed their clean-cab concept engine into service Monday, outfitted with simple changes inside that will make all the difference. 

"We've got a lot of smooth, non-porous surfaces like vinyl seating, and solid surfaces that are much easier to clean than the materials we had in the past," said Chief Hartzog. "There's the HEPA filtration system that captures all the harmful smoke."   

The truck, which cost over $590,000, includes updates to the outside as well. Outside, it has an exhaust pipe that burns off the carcinogens before they exit the system.

"This is important because during cold starts, that's where we're around the apparatus and susceptible to the exhaust coming out," added Chief Hartzog. "It's very important that we're protecting the driver inside the truck, or firefighters who are putting tools back in place while the engine is idling." 

And gear, which was once kept inside the cabin, will now stay outside in their own compartments.

"Even though we clean the materials on scene, they'll continue to off-gas for a significant period of time," explained Chief Hartzog. 

Country-wide, firefighters are battling higher-than-normal cancer rates. According to the International Association of Fire Fighters, since 2002, nearly two out of every three firefighter line-of-duty deaths were from cancer. 

Hartzog says nowadays, there's a growing awareness about how to change that. 

"We've learned so much in the past few years about what we thought we were doing right, either we were not doing correctly, or we needed to do more than what we've done in the past," he said. 

And they're changes that give Novogrodski some peace of mind.

"Now that we're not putting any of that stuff back into the cab, it's just an overall better experience," added Novogrodski.