Sanford Springvale News Banner

Copyright © 2024 – Sanford Springvale News – All rights reserved.

Battling More Than Flames  

Springvale Fire Station

Springvale Fire Station
Photo: Google

By Jordan Wilson, Communications Coordinator, City of Sanford  

In the month of January, as we recognize Firefighter Cancer Awareness Month, let’s turn our attention to the Sanford Fire Department. Sanford firefighters, and their colleagues across the nation, are facing a silent threat that is present long after the flames have been extinguished: cancer.  

Inadequate Facilities  

The Sanford and Springvale stations were constructed before there was a comprehensive understanding of firefighter cancer and how stations affect the risks involved in firefighting. These facilities lack the necessary space and technology to set up decontamination zones – essential for minimizing exposure to carcinogens, which primarily come from products of combustion during building fires. The absence of designated shower and locker spaces for female firefighters further compounds the issue, leaving them at risk of contamination while waiting for access to facilities.  

Modern Building Materials  

Modern homes and buildings, with synthetic and plastic materials, release more carcinogens when burning than natural materials. Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs), a group of over 100 chemicals known to cause cancer, are released during combustion. In 2017, researchers found firefighters absorb harmful chemicals, including PAHs, through their skin. Firefighters had from 3-5+ times the amount of by-products of PAHs in their urine after a fire compared to before the fire. Firefighters may also encounter other carcinogens like asbestos and diesel exhaust, which can be inhaled or absorbed through the skin, as well as PFAS (so-called “forever chemicals”) in their equipment.  

The Significance of Decontamination Zones  

Decontamination zones are critical areas within a fire station designed to minimize staff exposure to harmful contaminants and carcinogens encountered during firefighting operations. Ensuring proper decontamination facilities is vital for a safer working environment and reducing potential health risks. Categorized into three zones—hot (red), warm (yellow), and cold (green)—they each serve distinct purposes:  

  • Hot Zone (Red): This is the area of the station with the most contamination. Portions of the apparatus bay and adjacent areas are seen as the “hot zone” because of the presence of diesel exhaust and contaminated PPE, tools, and equipment. This is where the decontamination process starts.  
  • Warm/Transition Zone (Yellow): A transitional area designed for cleaning contaminated equipment. This area is negatively pressurized to ensure contamination does not pass through to the cold zone.  
  • Cold Zone (Green): The living quarters of the fire station, where contaminated items should never enter. However, due to their design, this area is technically non-existent in our Sanford and Springvale stations.  

National Statistics  

The severity of firefighter cancer is underscored by alarming statistics. At the 2023 International Association of Firefighters Fallen Firefighter Memorial, a staggering 63% of the names added to the memorial wall were members who had succumbed to occupational cancer. Cancer caused 66% of career firefighter line-of-duty deaths from 2002 to 2019. Additionally, firefighters have a 9% higher risk of being diagnosed with cancer and a 14% higher risk of dying from cancer than the general U.S. population. 

Local History and Impact 

According to retired SFD Lieutenant Gerry Gay, 19 members of the Department have been diagnosed with cancer since 2005, including former Assistant Chief Steve Cutter who passed away in 2020 after a battle with brain cancer. Other types of cancer affecting our local firefighters include kidney, prostate, colon, pancreatic, esophageal, skin and blood (leukemia). After years of legal battles, the state passed legislation in 2009 to assist firefighters with cancer in qualifying for workers’ compensation. That law was later amended to include female reproductive cancers. A Plymovent exhaust system installed in the Springvale station in 2014 helps improve air quality, but issues with exposure and decontamination remain at both stations. “We are still losing firefighters to cancer,” said Gay. 

The Urgency for Safer Facilities  

The battle against firefighter cancer is complicated, encompassing not only the dangers faced during firefighting but also the inadequacies of outdated stations. Facilities equipped with decontamination zones with gender-specific spaces will help Sanford and Springvale firefighters to mitigate the long-term health risks associated with their service.  

The Next Steps 

The city has purchased three pieces of property with the goal of constructing two new fire stations. The former Springvale Nurseries site and the adjacent former Courtney Cleaners property are planned for the main station covering central and south Sanford, while the former Notre Dame Church site is slated for the Springvale station. The City Council recently approved funds to create architectural plans and partial schematics in advance of a referendum vote on the construction, tentatively planned for June 11, when voters will also cast their ballots for the state primary election as well as the school budget validation vote.

Copyright © 2024 - Sanford Springvale News - All rights reserved. | CoverNews by AF themes.