Carlisle firefighters experiment with cleaning methods in effort to combat cancer

‘Wet decon’ method may help smaller departments with limited budgets

Firefighters experimenting to combat cancer

CARLISLE, OH (FOX19) - In an effort to combat cancer, members of a local fire department are experimenting with how they clean their gear, which means that despite limited resources, they are being preventative and proactive.

The Carlisle Fire Department, or Carlisle Fire Rescue Station 11, is a small, volunteer-based fire department. Though the firefighters are known to fight fires, it is a job that comes with many risks. Fire Chief Joel Holbrook said one of those risks is exposure to toxic substances.

“Every time we go on a fire, we’re just contaminating that gear more and more and more," said Holbrook.

Multiple studies have shown there is a connection between being a firefighter and being diagnosed with a certain potentially deadly disease -- cancer.

“Cancer will always be a caveat to the fire service. It will always be exposed to it. There’s no way of getting away from that," said Holbrook.

Holbrook said that cancer prevention starts with cleaning their gear. Commonly, that is done through a “gear extractor” machine. However, that machine is too expensive for the Carlisle department, Holbrook said, given their limited budget.

“We can’t afford the gear washer. We can’t afford the maintenance," said Holbrook. "We can’t afford the soap and all the stuff that comes along with it.”

They currently clean the gear by taking it to other departments. Holbrook said that can cause problems though because each firefighter only has one set. That means when someone’s gear is out being cleaned, that firefighter is temporarily out of commission.

“Bit of a domino effect when it comes to our staffing," said Holbrook.

During a college “fire research” class, Carlisle firefighter and University of Cincinnati student Chantel Banks decided that she wanted to try to help her department make improvements. She spoke with the chief and then started experimenting with a method called “wet decon,” where firefighters wash down after every fire while still wearing their gear.

“We’ve just been testing it. We’ve used all detergent. We’ve used Dawn dish soap,” said Banks. "We’ve used fire hose, garden hose, just going through and seeing what cleans the best.”

Though they do not have a big budget, they believe they are crafting a creative strategy. Ultimately, they are working to improve their gear cleaning procedures and create a new policy.

“I want to make sure that I can stay as healthy as I can and hopefully protect everyone else at this department and others," said Banks.

So far, they have only been experimenting at the fire station, but Banks said they will be testing their cleaning methods out in the field the next time they respond to a fire.

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