South Metro adding decontamination to all fire calls to try to curb cancer risks

LONE TREE, Colo. — Research shows that firefighters face an increased risk of cancer simply because of the job they do. That hits home for South Metro Fire Rescue, and they’re changing the way they operate because of it. 

“It hits a little closer to home, a lot closer to home, when we know that people who we’ve loved like family have died from this,” South Metro’s Eric Hurst said.

He’s referring to Mike Freeman, a longtime firefighter who died in July of 2017 from brain cancer. 

“Could we have done something to prevent Mike’s death? Which was a cancer-related death,” Operations Chief Troy Jackson said.

Jackson knows how big of an issue this is. He was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer in 2013. 

“This is the de-con bucket,” Hurst said, showing off a green 5-gallon bucket. 

The de-con bucket is the way that South Metro is hoping to curb the risk of firefighter cancer. It contains medical gloves and masks, dish soap, scrub brushes, seat covers, and trash bags. 

South Metro plans to treat fires as hazmat incidents by scrubbing off firefighter gear at the scene, cleaning skin, covering seats, bagging up coats and pants, and keeping gear separate to limit exposure. 

“We’re doing as much as we can to leave carcinogens at the fire scene,” Chief Jackson said. 

Training on the new methods and decontamination kit will start late in February. All fire trucks and engines will be equipped, and South Metro officials say it won’t impact response times since all crews will have a second set of gear to respond to multiple emergencies. 

The hope is the small bucket will have a big impact. 

“It’s probably too late for a few of us,” Jackson said, “but anything we can do to make it easier on the next generation is huge for what we’re doing.”

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