Lakeland firefighters battle cancer-causing agents

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The Lakeland Fire Department is declaring war on cancer. It is the No.1 killer nationally of firefighters because they are exposed to so many carcinogens and hazardous materials.

“It is always something you have to keep in mind,” Wade Kirkland, a firefighter EMT, told FOX 13.

Kirkland and the other firefighters in Lakeland will hopefully be a little safer as a result of the department’s new initiative to reduce their exposure to cancer-causing agents.

It has instituted new on-scene decontamination procedures, which can remove up to 85% of the carcinogens from smoke and elsewhere.

The department is also improving its protective gear. It has bought new, improved hoods that are better at keeping carcinogens out. It is also in the process out giving every fighter a second set of bunker gear so they can change into a clean outfit if they are moving on to a new fire.

The bunker gear runs about $2,000 a set. About half of the firefighters have been issued their backup set. The rest will get theirs by mid-summer.

Even a firefighter's street clothes can harbor hidden danger.

Studies show that firefighters who have thrown their work clothes into a washer or dryer at home can spread carcinogens to their families.

So Lakeland Fire just bought new washers and dryers for every one of its stations so that people can wash their clothes before they leave.

Kirkland says he is now more comfortable in his job than before the cancer-fighting changes were made.

“You still think about it, but I think the pros definitely outweigh the cons of being a firefighter,” Kirkland said.