AUSTIN (KXAN) — For the past month, the Austin Fire Department has been using a new way to clean firefighting gear of cancer-causing chemicals.

Every time a fire crew heads out to a call of a fire or HAZMAT situation there is a decontamination kit placed on a firetruck. After the fire or emergency is resolved firefighters use the kits and a bucket to set up a decontamination station.

The firefighter’s suits are scrubbed and hosed down. Crews separate and bag the gear they wore to fight the fire which includes bunker pants, coats, gloves, and hoods. The department’s on-scene safety officer will arrive and give the crews loaner gear and help them bag up their used items.

The Safety Support Team then washes and inspects the frontline gear and return it to the fire stations. “When we hose them down on scene studies have show that takes out about 85 percent of the chemicals out but that 85 percent is mostly on the outside, that shell part and so the hope is we are getting that 15 percent left as well as the carcinogens and chemicals embedded inside the actual lining of it,” said Lt. Troy McMillian. 

The program is an effort by the Austin Fire Department to reduce a firefighter’s exposure to carcinogens and toxic chemicals released during a fire.

Lt. McMillian says studies show cancer is the number one killer of firefighters nationwide, “our end goal is to provide more safety and health for our firefighters. This is a cancer prevention initiative for the department. It’s happening to departments nationwide, it’s a new culture shift in the fire service all around.” 

The Austin Fire Department has been using the new initiative for a little over a month and says it responded to 12 fires in that time frame and exchanged 103 sets of contaminated gear for clean loaner gear.

The goal is to have the firefighter’s original gear decontaminated and given back to them within their same shift. AFD says it has roughly 450 sets of loaner gear ready to roll out.