Peoria Fire Chief Ed Olehy is working to craft policies to cut down on firefighter exposure to carcinogens.
Currently, the Peoria Fire Department does not have a procedure to reduce the risk from cancer-causing substances that stick to gear during a working fire.
The danger is real. Three active-duty members of the fire department have recently died from cancer.
Olehy says cleaning off gear requires helping firefighters change old habits and attitudes.
“A lot of it isn’t they don’t want to change. It’s just years and years of doing things the same way, and that macho attitude," he said. "I mean, you look at any television show or any ad with a fireman in it. You know, we’ve got soot-covered face and gear looks like it’s been drug across the ground, and that’s just a cool image.”
Olehy said it can be especially challenging to clean off gear with a soap and brush in extreme weather. And with only one set of gear per firefighter, swapping out isn’t an option.
The Peoria Fire Department recently received a grant for three new extractors that are being installed. Olehy says he is also working to implement standard operating guidelines to reduce cancer risk for the men and women of the fire department.
“We’re working on it, and we work on it daily, as far as reminding guys and girls the importance of cleaning that stuff off your body, and off your skin, those types of things," Olehy said.
The chief recently received an Executive Fire Officer Degree from the National Fire Academy after defending a paper on this topic to a panel of experts.