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Morris Fire Department receives grant to dry washed gear; Hancock officials discuss availability of grants

The Morris Fire Department received a grant to buy this turnout gear dryer. Morris Fire Chief Dave Dybdal said the dryer will dry washed turnout gear much quicker than letting the gear air dry. The dryer is part of an effort to reduce carcinogens that may collect on turnout gear during a fire. Rae Yost/Stevens County Times

A turnout suit filled with grime and soot was once badge of honor for firefighters, said Bruce West, a Minnesota state fire marshal.

Not so these days, West said.

Fire departments across the country are working to obtain special washers and dryers to make sure they can clean turnout gear after firefighters have responded to an incident.

"It's so important to clean the gear after a fire," West said. Because when firefighters are battling fires, they can also be battling cancer-causing residue.

Firefighters can be exposed to cancer-causing carcinogens during a fire response. Many plastics used in household items can potentially release carcinogens in a fire, West said. Those contaminants stick to the turnout gear.

"You need to get rid of the carcinogens embedded (in the gear)," West said.

The best way to rid do so is to wash the gear in a proper washer and then dry it.

The Morris Fire Department has been fortunate to obtain grants to buy a washer, and, now, a dryer to wash and dry turnout gear, fire chief Dave Dybdal said.

The department recently received an $8,000 state grant to buy a properly equipped dryer. The department applied for the grant through the State Fire Marshal's office, Dybdal said.

The local department was one of 73 to receive a grant for a washer or dryer. The department received a Federal Emergency Management Administration grant in 2014 for a gear washer.

Dybdal said the new dryer will allow firefighters to more quickly wash and dry gear after a fire. During one recent week the department responded to two fires. Gear can take several days to air dry after being washed and firefighters might have had to wear damp gear. Now, it will only take hours to dry wet gear.

Because turnout gear is about $2,600 to $2,700 a piece, most departments don't have two for each firefighter, Dybdal said. If there is no available back-up gear it's even more important to get washed gear dried as soon has possible, he said.

The dryer blows air through the body arms and legs of turnout gear. The turnout gear is placed on hanger hook and several suits can hang from the dryer at one time.

"We take a lot of precautions as a fire department to make sure our people are safe..," Dybdal said.

The washer and dryer are just another way to keep firefighters safe.

Studies released by various organizations and through media say that firefighters have an increased risk of cancer over the general population.

The National Fire Protection Association website posted information from two recent studies that said "The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recently undertook two large studies focused on firefighter cancer and concluded that firefighters face a 9% increase in cancer diagnoses, and a 14% increase in cancer-related deaths, compared to the general population in the U.S."

"Twenty years ago it wasn't really talked about," Dybdal said.

At best, firefighters used a fire hose to wash down turnout gear and then dried them over a fire truck or anything that was handy, Dybdal and West said.

"I'm pretty sure my gear has never been washed in 15 years," Hancock Fire Chief Justin Flaten said at the May 15 Hancock council meeting. Flaten was discussing information he'd been receiving about cancer, carcinogens and possible grants for washers and dryers.

Health officials, fire departments and fire organizations now know more about the dangers of dirty turnout gear.

Washers and dryers are increasingly being added to equipment lists for fire departments, West said.

Dybdal said the grants help make the purchases affordable to fire departments.

Flaten said on May 15 he would stay informed about applying for a washing machine grant. The fire department does not have enough calls to require a dryer, he said. There should be enough time between fire calls to dry washed turnout gear, he said.

"If we can't get a grant we may to have to budget for it," Hancock council member Jeff Flaten said the May 15 meeting.