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What Can Fire Departments Do to Prevent Asbestos Exposure?

Every day, firefighters face danger. Unfortunately, not all of that danger stems from the fires they fight. Some of that peril is in the carcinogens enmeshed in their gear from fighting those fires. In fact, their dirty turnout gear and the time they spend battling fires, absorbing carcinogens, is increasing the risk for cancer and increasing cancer-related deaths in firefighters.

Preventing Asbestos Exposure

But what can fire departments do to help prevent asbestos exposure? They’re already wearing protective gear, but that gear, may have been exposed to clouds of asbestos fibers. When they remove their gear, those fibers can spread. If it’s not handled properly, it can then pose a risk to those around it. Anyone who breathes in the fibers or touches the gear can be at risk.

To help prevent exposure, there are several things departments can do. These include:

  • Wear a self-contained breathing apparatus during the overhaul stage, when they are looking for hot spots. This will help them breathe without taking in those asbestos fibers.
  • After the fire, firefighters should wet down any portions of the building where they are working. This will help reduce the amount of asbestos fibers which are released into the air. This will help reduce the amount of fibers on gear, as well.  
  • The department should make sure to keep respirator cleaning supplies as well as replacement cartridges and replacement respirators close at hand, so they are within reach when needed. Unclean respirators will prevent easy breathing, and if the cartridges fill with asbestos fibers, they aren’t much better than breathing in the polluted air.
  • Fire departments should perform all venting techniques like opening walls while wearing their protective clothing.
  • Dry dust at a fire should never be handled unless it’s by certified abatement personnel. They should be the only ones working to decontaminate the areas which may contain asbestos.
  • Finally, after any fire, firefighters should shower and change into clean clothes before they leave the station in order to avoid cross-contamination. If a firefighter were to return home without cleaning up or changing, the asbestos fragments could be transported from one place to another.

Following these precautions can help reduce the risk of cancer and cancer-related deaths.


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